Maternity pay discrimination – the tip of the iceberg

30 Apr

Oh joy. At the moment there is such a plethora of rampant lunacy being spouted by people in the public eye that I scarcely know to where I should turn my attention.

This week however I believe the winner (to date – no chickens being currently counted) is Godfrey Bloom MEP, and his comment: “No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”.

An excellent blog on the full comment is here in The Spectator, written by Isabel Hardman.

Now, I only want to focus on two things. Firstly, Mr Bloom discriminates against one small group in society in this way, when it is actually impossible to do so for the following reason. Is there any way to identify who is going to need to take significant time off, for a plethora of often terrible, tragic reasons? No. So discriminating against women like this is not only offensive in terms of the skills, experience and capability being confined to the scrapheap because of a ‘maybe’; it is also bonkers, because there is absolutely no way to tell who will actually cost your business cold hard cash by their unexpected absence. And to look at it one way, at least with maternity leave you have some time to prepare for what’s going to happen. There is a good reason why it is illegal to ask someone about their future baby life choice plans in interview. Would any employer think about saying “are you planning on having a massive car crash while you work for me?” or “do you reckon you’re likely to have a stroke within first 12 months of working with us?”. Should we start asking about how many hours’ sleep a night people have, as part of the interview process? No? Well maybe we should. Being overtired leads to a whole range of risk factors. Claiming that you won’t employ child bearing age women to ‘mitigate risk’ is discrimination, pure and simple. There are an awful lot of more, um, risky risks to keep an eye on here.

And secondly, let’s be practical for one small moment. No matter how you cut it, it wasn’t ever an option for M to take the mat leave on my behalf, now was it, yet we both wanted the children. So let’s say I was a bloke and everything else was exactly the same – background, experience, achievements, even the penchant for unnatural hair colouring – would that make me as a man a better employee, or simply less of a risk? It’s the latter; therefore it is discrimination, as the deciding factor is dictated by circumstance not skill. I feel very lucky that both my maternity leaves were taken while I worked for a truly enlightened boss. Or maybe he was just being fair, and it is the alternative ways that many other employers react that make him appear enlightened.

Parental leave – where either parent can take the time off – will make things easier on the individuals taking the leave to decide who and when, supporting both careers (allegedly), but oooh that’s a UKIP quandary then. Because shouldn’t that as a result mean that men of any age ought to be viewed as an employment risk, since a man at any stage of life could become a dad, and take the time off.

I read Richard Godwin’s Farage interview in the Evening Standard on Monday, and was chilled by UKIP’s current lack of a deficit reduction policy, and apparent lack of ability to deliver one. “In October, we have to put down a plan of how we would deal with the deficit — and that is going to be one of the biggest challenges we’ve had to face,” said Farage blithely. Perhaps UKIP should concentrate on working out this, rather than trying to dictate demented business policy.

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