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Treatment of pregnant women appalling, UC law expert says

Treatment of pregnant women appalling, UC law expert says

February 15, 2013

The treatment of pregnant New Zealand women and new parents in the workplace is appalling, University of Canterbury Associate Professor Annick Masselot said today.

Women in New Zealand and in many parts of the world are discriminated against by employers, she said. Despite legal protection against dismissal, many women are forced out of their job because they are considered to be more costly than men.

For a country that was the first in the world to give women the vote, greater progress is needed to be fairer to pregnant working women, Professor Masselot said.

Her report on pregnancy discrimination was recently presented at a European Commission legal seminar in Brussels.

``Cultural stereotypes are still very much alive in New Zealand and across Europe and women are still perceived as the main carers and, therefore, not primarily as workers with full employment rights.

``Women are not merely discriminated because they are pregnant and are about to take a period of parental leave; they are discriminated on the basis of the next 15 years of school holidays.

``It is parenting which is at the heart of the discrimination and it is mostly women who suffer from it because it is women who perform the vast majority of the domestic care.

``The level of protection granted to pregnancy, maternity and parenthood is more sophisticated for those working in the public sector than for workers in the private sector. The vast majority of women end up working in the public sector, which is then seen as responsible for managing pregnancy and childcare-related problems.

``Workers in the private sector are more likely to suffer from discrimination than those in the public sector. Discrimination appears to be less common in large enterprises compared to small businesses,’’ she said.

The introduction of pregnancy and maternity rights had led some to argue that women’s rights had created a barrier in women’s employability.

``Employers generally argue that more entitlement to pregnancy and maternity rights leads to more discrimination against women, while parents claim that more protections and more rights are required in order for them to be able to access and retain paid employment.

``It has been suggested that the extent of pregnancy and maternity rights is directly linked to lower employment rates among women. However, there is no clear evidence to suggest that discrimination against women is triggered by the existence of rights or that women are discriminated against because rights are too burdensome for employers.

``Not all is negative however, with more employers aware of the importance of work-life balance. Some professional bodies have been very active in raising awareness campaigns. In France the law profession has campaigned for self-employed lawyers to be granted periods of maternity leave on an equal basis with employees.

``In times of economic crisis, women’s rights tend to be reduced. Therefore minimum standards set by law are needed to guarantee a strong stand against discriminatory practices,’’ Professor Masselot said.


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