Blog: the plight of pregnant workers in the age of COVID

Julia O’Connell, the vice chair of UNISON’s national women’s committee, explains what’s it like to be pregnant – and working – during COVID-19

Torso of a pregnant woman, with hands supporting belly

I’m really lucky my employer is supporting me to work flexibly and from home. Sadly, this is not the case for the majority of pregnant women.

In June, the TUC published research around the experience of pregnant workers and new mums in the COVID-19 crisis.

One in four have experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough. Health and safety rights are routinely disregarded and low-paid pregnant women are almost twice as likely as higher-paid women to be losing pay or forced to stop work.

Of new mothers planning a return to work, 71% can’t find childcare. From my own experience as a rep, I’ve met many pregnant women – particularly in schools and caring professions – who want to remain in work, but their employer won’t make the reasonable adjustments, even though it’s the law.

We are already seeing the impact of COVID-19 on women’s pay. The reduction in childcare availability and affordability will dictate whether some women can work at all.

This just shouldn’t be happening in 2020.

Unions fought hard to protect pregnant women at work. Pregnant women face enough issues without having to suffer employers’ indifference to their rights.

With our wonderful union’s support, women can continue to fight these challenges.

So, what can we do? We need to take action now. Women members – tell your union about your experiences. Speak to your women’s officer, if you have one.

We need to raise our voices now, more than ever before, to campaign against the increasing inequalities we face as women, to make government value women workers and to make society aware that an investment in us is also an investment in our economy.