UK unions say cutting maternity pay for striking pregnant workers is ‘immoral’ (2024)

The UK’s two biggest unions have backed calls for a review of the “immoral” system whereby pregnant workers lose a portion of their maternity pay if they go on strike.

Unite and Unison joined campaigners in calling for the government to exempt strike days from maternity pay calculations so that new parents are not “penalised twice” for taking part in industrial action.

Statutory maternity pay and some contractual maternity pay is currently based on an average of the person’s earnings during the eight-week period running up to the 15th week before the due date. Any missed days, such as for strikes, jury duty or sickness, bring down this average, and can leave parents with a shortfall of hundreds or even thousands of pounds during maternity leave.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “It is totally immoral to penalise pregnant women who stand up for decent pay against greedy employers by cutting their maternity pay.

“The current rules on this are a disgrace and amount to yet another attempt to undermine the right to strike. I can assure you that Unite will not allow our members to be attacked in this way.”

Unison’s general secretary, Christina McAnea, said strike action was a last resort but represented “a basic human right”.

She said: “Pregnant workers and new mothers already struggle with spiralling costs, workplace discrimination and threats to their jobs. They shouldn’t face a financial penalty for exercising their rights. This loophole has to be closed.”

Maternity campaigners have warned that some people would feel prevented from striking, while others have taken part in strikes unaware that this could have a negative impact on their pay when they become a mother.

Joeli Brearley, the founder and chief executive of the maternity rights charity Pregnant Then Screwed, said it was “unfair and potentially discriminatory” that the right to strike came with more severe consequences for pregnant workers.

She said: “The law needs to change to ensure that in exceptional circ*mstances pregnant workers still meet the qualifying threshold for maternity allowance, statutory maternity pay and occupational maternity pay despite a decrease in earnings. Exceptional circ*mstances should include industrial action, jury service, a business going bust, redundancies and furlough pay.”

In 2021, Pregnant Then Screwed won a legal victory against the government over calculation of the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS), introduced to support people during the pandemic. The court of appeal ruled it indirectly discriminated against new mothers.

Brearley added: “It seems to me that there are similarities between the two.”

Bill to extend maternity protections passes in House of CommonsRead more

One woman who works in admin at a university – in a job that had suffered more than a decade of real-term pay cuts – said that, having voted for strike action before she found out it would reduce her maternity pay, she then felt conflicted and was advised by her union to continue working.

“I decided not to [strike] because maternity pay is sh*t enough as it is without strike action bringing it down any lower,” she said.

“Obviously it’s really frowned upon, crossing the picket line to work when you’re in the union, especially because I voted for strike action as well, which was a big thing for me. I said yes to something I believe in, I think it’s really important that we strike.”

She worked from home during the strikes because she was not ready to tell her colleagues the reason she was unable to strike.

“It’s difficult because early in pregnancy not everyone wants to tell people they’re pregnant,” she said.

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“A couple of weeks [after the strikes] someone did directly ask me because they hadn’t seen me on the picket line and I had to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I was striking from home,’ and then I felt awful because I’d been lying about it and I hadn’t been striking at all. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in.

“At least if you’re retiring you can be honest with people.”

In July, Leeds city council’s deputy leader, Jonathan Pryor, wrote to the government requesting a change in the law.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, the parliamentary under-secretary of state responsible for maternity benefits, Lord Younger, said the government did not plan to change its position.

He wrote that the government recognised there were a number of ways maternity pay could be affected during the eight-week period.

“These include taking a temporary wage reduction, taking time away from work due to illness or being on strike.

“We believe, however, that the current calculation balances the need to achieve a representative reflection of a woman’s earnings in a way that is consistent for all, whilst ensuring a straightforward calculation for employers.”

He added: “This avoids the need for complicated rules around which earnings should be used – providing clarity for women and their employers and reducing the potential for disputes over entitlement.

“On this basis we do not plan to change the method of calculating entitlement to, and the rate of, [statutory maternity pay].”

Pryor said: “It’s incredibly disappointing for the government to believe that a pregnant woman who takes strike action should be hit twice financially, while anyone who isn’t pregnant will only take that financial hit once.

“The right to go on strike is fundamental in our society and just because the government doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean they should be able to penalise people like this.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has been approached for comment.

UK unions say cutting maternity pay for striking pregnant workers is ‘immoral’ (2024)


UK unions say cutting maternity pay for striking pregnant workers is ‘immoral’? ›

Unite's general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “It is totally immoral to penalise pregnant women who stand up for decent pay against greedy employers by cutting their maternity pay. “The current rules on this are a disgrace and amount to yet another attempt to undermine the right to strike.

Does striking impact maternity pay? ›

Going on strike is unlikely to impact the amount of maternity allowance you will receive.

Can you fire a pregnant woman in the UK? ›

Dismissal because of pregnancy or maternity

If you dismiss your employee while they're pregnant or on maternity leave, you must give them the reasons in writing. Pregnancy or maternity is never a valid reason to dismiss someone. You could be breaking discrimination law if you do this.

Can a job fire you for being pregnant during your probation period? ›

Pregnancy is an illegal reason for firing. This includes poor performance due to pregnancy-related fatigue, taking time off for antenatal appointments or pregnancy classes, intention to take maternity leave, or breastfeeding.

How much do teachers get paid during maternity leave in England? ›

For the first four weeks, you will be paid at 100 per cent of salary if eligible. Weeks 5-6 are paid at 90 per cent of salary if eligible, and weeks 7-18 at 50 per cent of salary plus the standard statutory maternity pay rate of £184.03. per week.

Do you get paid if you go on strike in the UK? ›

Employers do not need to pay anyone who is on strike. Employees who go on strike will not usually get their pay or other contractual benefits like pension contributions. In some circ*mstances, they might get money from their union. This is sometimes called strike pay.

Is striking an unfair labor practice? ›

Strikes for a lawful object.

Employees who strike for a lawful object fall into two classes “unfair labor practice strikers” and “economic strikers.” Both classes continue as employees, but unfair labor practice strikers have greater rights of reinstatement to their jobs.

Can you negotiate maternity pay in the UK? ›

You may be able to negotiate a slightly higher salary or a bonus which would helpincrease the amount of statutory maternity pay. Which is calculated based on your average weekly pay. Have a back-up plan in your mind just in case your ideal maternity leave situation isn't within reach after all.

Is it discrimination to fire a pregnant woman? ›

It's Against the Law.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, pay and other employment benefits. It prohibits policies that limit or prevent women from doing jobs simply because they are pregnant or of childbearing age.

Can I refuse to work alone in the UK? ›

There is no general legal prohibition on working alone. However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers have legal duties to assess all risks to health and safety, including the risk of lone working.

Can I get fired for calling in sick while pregnant? ›

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not allow anyone to fire or treat an employee differently because they are pregnant, have given birth, or are experiencing a related medical condition.

Can I be laid off while on maternity leave? ›

Layoffs during maternity leave are legally permissible if they are genuinely based on non-discriminatory, business-related reasons unrelated to the employee's maternity status.

Can you be fired for not telling your employer you're pregnant? ›

California Laws on Disclosing Pregnancy to an Employer

Furthermore, pregnant employees cannot be discriminated against based on whether they choose to disclose their pregnancy status, and employers cannot take adverse action against employees based on this status.

Do you have to pay back maternity leave if you quit the UK? ›

You do not have to repay any Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance and you should continue to receive it from your employer/JobCentre Plus for the full 39 weeks even if you resign before the end of the maternity pay period.

Can you go on the sick straight after maternity leave? ›

Once your maternity leave has ended you are treated as if you are 'back at work' even if you are not well enough to actually go into work. You are entitled to take sick leave and should be treated in the same way as any other employee who is off sick. You and your employer should follow the normal sickness procedures.

What is the average maternity pay in the UK? ›

Statutory Maternity Pay ( SMP ) is paid for up to 39 weeks. You get: 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks. £184.03 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

Are striking workers counted as unemployed? ›

If they did not work in the period in question, they will not be counted as employed. Since striking workers as a rule are not looking for an alternative job they will also not be counted as unemployed.

How to increase maternity pay? ›

Increase your Maternity Allowance

Once your additional contributions have been linked to your Maternity Allowance application, your payments will be increased and backdated if necessary. This can take several weeks. Class 2 National Insurance contributions are £3.45 per week.

What are the negative effects of strike? ›

The decision to call a strike does not come easily, because union workers risk a loss of income for long periods of time. They also risk the permanent loss of their jobs, especially when replacement workers hired to continue operations during the strike stay on as permanent employees.

Will strike affect my pension? ›

Are there impacts on my pension because of the strike? Periods while a member participates in a strike do not count as pensionable service.

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