Women continue to undertake the majority of unpaid work in the home, in particular childcare, which contributes to lower levels of pay. This disadvantage will often persist throughout women's careers. One way in which the gender pay gap can be tackled is by promoting the equal sharing of care between men and women, and supporting women to continue working.
The Review refers to a 2016 report by the ECHR and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which found that 77 per cent of mothers had had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and/or on return from maternity leave. In addition, research found that harassment, negative comments and detriment related to flexible working are also common.
The Equality Act currently provides protection from dismissal on grounds of pregnancy and maternity leave for a "protected period" during pregnancy until the end of maternity leave. However, the Review observes that it is often on return to work that women experience discrimination and recommends that the protected period is extended for six months after returning to work. Furthermore. it recommends an additional layer of protection from redundancy for pregnant women and those on maternity leave by introducing a requirement for employers to consult ACAS prior to making a woman redundant in those circumstances.
Recognising the challenging circumstances of new or expectant mothers in relation to the short time limits – three months –to bring a claim for discrimination in the employment tribunal, the Review proposes an extension of the time limit to six months for all claims linked to pregnancy and maternity.
Addressing statutory maternity pay (SMP), the Review proposes that the current 26 week qualifying period is removed so that a woman is entitled to SMP regardless of length of service. Furthermore, it proposes an increase in the flat rate SMP to reflect the Real Living Wage (currently £10.20 per hour in London and £8.75 elsewhere) based on a minimum 36 hour week.
Paternity and parental rights
Tackling the widening gender pay gap and the lack of career progression for women after having children – highlighted recently in research published by The Institute of Fiscal Studies- will require a shift in childcare responsibility between mothers and fathers. While the introduction of shared parental leave in 2014 was intended to allow parents to share time off work to care for their child, the regulations are complex to operate and take up has been woefully low.
The Review recommends an overhaul of the parental leave system to support fathers and co-partners to play a bigger part. Recommendations include extending paternity leave to six weeks at 90 per cent of earnings, and moving towards a system which assumes equal responsibility for the care of children, with both parents having leave entitlements in their own right. The proposed increase in the SMP flat rate would apply equally to statutory shared parental pay and paternity pay.