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Rise in insecure employment profoundly disadvantages pregnant women

25 November 2020

UCU has called for robust government action to reverse the growth in insecure work, citing the harsh impact on mothers in the workplace

The call came as Maternity Action launched a new research report, supported by UCU and Unison, based on interviews with pregnant women and new mothers in casualised work.

In the report, Insecure Labour: the realities of insecure work for pregnant women and new mothers, researchers analysed the legal protections for pregnant women on insecure contracts and interviewed ten women about their experiences of pregnancy and new motherhood on an insecure contract. The research explored different forms of insecure work, including agency working, zero hours and short term contracts.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'This report lays bare the heavy price that women pay in a world where employment is increasingly insecure. Too many women working in colleges and universities are stuck in a cycle of short-term contracts or hourly-paid work which leaves them financially vulnerable and unable to plan effectively for the future - a situation which the pandemic has only made more acute.

'Addressing this problem will require a concerted effort from the government and employers to reduce the use of insecure contracts, improve gender pay gap reporting and provide stronger safeguards for new and expectant mothers against redundancy and other attacks on their terms and conditions. It's time for the further and higher education sectors to set an example on this and stamp out casual contracts which only serve to entrench inequality amongst education staff.'

Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action said: 'The increasing use of insecure contracts in recent years has profoundly disadvantaged pregnant women and new mothers.  Women are denied basic maternity rights by a combination of weak legal protections and exploitative employers. 

'Women have borne the brunt of the pandemic, and the rise in insecure working will further entrench the inequitable impact on mothers.  We need Government to recognise the gendered impact of insecure contracts, and take action to reverse the growth in casualised work.

'Women should not be forced to choose between unsafe working conditions and no work. But that is the reality for many pregnant women in agency work or zero hour contracts. Many women are not entitled to sick pay and have not been considered for furlough during the pandemic.

'Short term and casualised contracts leave women unable to plan ahead.  Women on short term contracts were struggling to make big decisions about when to have a baby and where to live while friends on permanent contracts were able to plan for the future.

'Women on short term and precarious contracts are at the mercy of their employers for ongoing employment, and are fearful of losing work if they challenge discrimination or unfair practices.'

Last updated: 2 December 2020