Maternity rights, shoddy as they are, should certainly not be rolled back in any way - Jayne Dowle

Whilst new PM Rishi Sunak is rapidly distancing himself and angry Opposition MPs are rounding on the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whose comments about slashing maternity rights are coming back to haunt him, a mother of two from Wetherby is celebrating her victory over Morrisons bosses who wanted to demote her when she was pregnant.

Donna Patterson, a former buyer for the Bradford-based supermarket chain, has won a £60,000 pay-out following legal action in which she defended herself.

Ms Patterson, 38, told the judge and tribunal members that whilst she was on maternity leave with her second child, her bosses at Morrisons changed her role without her consent after rescinding a job offer to become a confectionery buyer.

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They also forced her to work full-time when she returned to work, despite being contracted only for part-time hours and pay.

Mel Stride is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. PIC: David Mirzoeff/PA WireMel Stride is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. PIC: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
Mel Stride is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. PIC: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

I hope that those who side with DWP chief Mel Stride, whose inflammatory comments about parental leave on the Conservative Home website in 2012 are surfacing to haunt him, will learn about Ms Patterson’s case and reconsider their allegiance.

“Politics around this issue are tricky”, Mr Stride wrote, adding that “worldwide experience showing that changes in this area of employment law tend to ratchet in one direction alone - towards greater generosity to employees”.

His main concern was not for the welfare of mothers, fathers and children - considering that in many families, both parents working to meet the rising cost of living is now the norm - but for “British business and entrepreneurship”.

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Mr Stride expressed hope that “we could seriously consider following their example with at least a close look at relaxations in protected-employment legislation for smaller businesses”, helpfully seeming oblivious to the fact that many smaller businesses are owned by, run by and staffed by women.

He should be warned; this trajectory is climbing ever upwards. Data from The Rose Review, a Treasury-commissioned review of female entrepreneurship, found that more UK women than ever are starting new businesses, with 145,200 all-female-led incorporations in 2021, up from 56,200 in 2018.

However, in large companies and organisations, despite all the legislation in place to supposedly protect their rights, pregnant women and new mothers can often be discarded or downgraded under the guise of ‘staff reorganisation’.

Sadly, Ms Patterson, who took on her own case after being told that professional help could cost up to £300 an hour, is not alone.

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Every day pregnant women are shunted about like pawns in the workplace, and never is the old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ more apt.

I know this, because it happened to me. When I had my son in 2002, my maternity leave was covered by a man who rapidly became ‘one of the lads’. Suddenly, all those years of 12-hour days, working weekends, pulling out all the stops, meant nothing.

The day I returned to work after six months off - our company generously offered half a year’s maternity leave on full pay - I knew I was no longer wanted. Emotionally, it was one of the most testing times of my life. It’s a horrible feeling, finally giving birth to a much-wanted child, only to receive a huge slap in the face professionally.

It saddens me that two decades after I had my son, nothing has changed.

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People like Mr Stride will always loftily assure us that the UK offers some of the best maternity pay and provisions in the world.

Compare us to Germany, they say, where statutory maternity leave only lasts 14 weeks, but parents are allowed to apply to their bosses to take up to a year off.

Yet his argument, that the more generous maternity policies are, the less likely a mother with young children is to return to work, holds no water when as it stands, maternity pay is 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first six weeks of leave, then £156.66 or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. After eight months, good luck finding affordable childcare.

The average weekly wage for women in the UK is currently £584, according to official figures collated by Statista, a statistics company.

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Many women, sadly, earn far less than this, but still, do the maths.

Slashing pay by more than half whilst mothers are temporarily out of the workforce raising the next generation, who will fund our pensions and healthcare with their taxes, and contribute to the overall economic good of the country, hardly sounds indulgent and over-generous to this working mother.