The visit was held on 12 May 2016 in a café in Southsea, Portsmouth, where an NCT Bumps and Babes group meet each week. Various networks were used to publicise the event and encourage attendance by a range of participants. About 20 women attended, mostly with babies and young children. Occupations of those attending included chef, military, entrepreneur, teacher, NHS staff, private sector workers, hostel manager and factory worker.
The group discussed:
Women’s experiences had been mixed. Some women had had to leave their job or go on maternity leave early due to health and safety concerns. For example, a teacher had felt unprotected in the classroom when teaching groups of boys/young men. A hostel manager had felt the risks of working alone with substance abusers, including needle users, was too great when pregnant. When she raised these concerns, they were not dealt with. A factory worker on a zero-hours contract said that pregnant workers were not allowed to sit down for shifts of eight hours. She knew a colleague who had lost her baby at eight months and felt that this was due to the lack of adequate health and safety measures at the factory.
While on maternity leave, some women had been made redundant, with one being given a less senior role instead. Another’s employer had restructured a number of jobs while three women were on maternity leave, leaving some out of work and forcing another to return to work earlier than she had intended. Some attendees had felt pressured to work from home or had been asked to “pop in” to the office while on maternity leave. One woman said she had lost out on a scheduled pay rise because she had not attended a performance review while on maternity leave.
Some women had felt unable to return to work for various reasons. For example, some who had been in the military had chosen to leave the service because their partners were also in the military and it was difficult to manage child care with both parents in the military. Some women said they had not been able to afford to go back to work at the end of their maternity leave because of childcare costs. Some had decided to work for themselves and it was suggested that this could be made easier. Others commented that it was difficult to find good-quality part-time work.
On returning to work, some women had experienced difficulty in getting the flexibility they needed from their employer, including over the length of lunch breaks. One attendee had had a very good experience and attributed this to her manager, who had accepted her part-time hours and flexible working. Others agreed that the attitude of line managers was very important. Some women had experienced difficulty in getting the facilities they needed to support breastfeeding, such as suitable places for breastfeeding, expressing and milk storage. Some had switched to using formula as a result. There were several suggestions for incentives and assistance that could help women with children get back into work after maternity leave or a career break. These included:
There was wide agreement that information about pregnancy and maternity rights at work could be made more easily accessible and that there was a need for better and earlier signposting to help women find this information. For example, some women were interested in knowing more about how shared parenting could work and how it would affect their husbands’ careers but did not know how to access this information. Others said it had been difficult for them to find out about their rights and their employers’ responsibilities early on in their pregnancy. Several women said it had been difficult to find out about their employer’s maternity, flexible working and other relevant policies. For example, one woman had not realised that she should have accrued annual leave while on maternity leave, and another did not know about childcare vouchers.
Most of the women did not know where to find this kind of information and said they would use an internet search engine if they wanted to find out (but few said that they had actually done this). Some felt that if information came from a health professional they would be able to trust that it was correct. Others felt there was already a great pressure on midwives.
When discussing potential discrimination, some women felt it would be hard to know whether they had been discriminated against in some circumstances. For example, if they were made redundant they would not know how their employer had reached that decision and whether their pregnancy or maternity was a factor.
When asked where they would go for legal advice about rights and/or how to enforce them, most women said they would not know where to go. The cost of legal advice was also raised. Most women said that they probably would not think about going to tribunal when pregnant or with a new baby as there would be too many other things to think about and the idea of representing oneself while looking after a small baby was off-putting. Tribunal fees were considered to be a barrier, particularly for those on statutory maternity pay.
Suggestions for making it easier to access information and legal advice included:
4 August 2016