Labour Party calls for maternity pay protection

The Labour Party has urged the Government to change current regulations on maternity pay for pregnant women, claiming that many pregnant women have lost out on statutory maternity pay (SMP) due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The argument is that, when lockdown was initiated in March, women who were pregnant at the time, and therefore on a clinically vulnerable list, were sent home and paid statutory sick pay (SSP) if they could not conduct their work remotely. Due to the decrease in their pay, they have therefore not met the qualification threshold for maternity pay – applicable on earnings of at least £120 per week in the average eight weeks leading up to their maternity leave.

As a result, Labour believes that a large number of women who have found themselves in this situation may have lost thousands of pounds in pay that they are legally entitled to. Speaking on this issue, the Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights, Andy McDonald, says: ‘It is wrong that pregnant women have not only lost income as a result of being wrongly sent home on sick pay rather than their full wage, but have had their maternity pay slashed as well.’ He went on to outline that ‘COVID-19-related spells on statutory sick pay should not mean women have their maternity pay cut…the Government needs to act now [to] end this injustice and protect pregnant women’s rights.’

We have seen a large amount of changes to the law in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, pregnant women and fathers were given protection from losing out on maternity and paternity pay, if they had been furloughed and therefore only received 80 per cent of their wage, meaning they dipped below the qualification threshold due to claims that this put them in an unfair position. Now, the shadow cabinet is calling for a similar protection to be granted to pregnant women who were placed on SSP.

It remains to be seen how the Government will respond to this plea, however past amendments to the law do show that they are willing to listen to concerns of this nature. For example, the new legislation on calculating statutory maternity pay for furloughed employees which came into force on 24 April 2020. The Government announced that workers who are furloughed as a result of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, who then take maternity leave, will have their statutory maternity pay eligibility based on their usual earnings rather than a furloughed pay rate. They will ensure that workers whose period of family-related pay began on or after 25 April will be assessed on their usual, full pay and mean that very many women who would have normally been disqualified based on their furlough earnings will now receive maternity pay.

Therefore, regarding Labour’s call for maternity pay protection, employers who did place pregnant women on SSP during lockdown should keep up to date with all new developments in this area as, again, it is still uncertain how the current Government will act in response.

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