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Dramatic rise in employment discrimination against women on maternity leave

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There has been a sharp rise in new mothers experiencing discrimination in the workplace, a report reveals.

Mothers who have taken maternity leave face greater risk of redundancy and zero-hour contracts, Citizens Advice have found, with a near 60 per cent rise in women seeking advice on maternity issues in 2016.

More than 3,300 women sought advice from the charity from January to June this year, compared to just 2,099 in the same period in 2015.

The findings coincide with the Guardian’s exposé on Sports Direct workers who had returned to work from maternity leave to a zero-hour contract. They had also revealed that some of the workers were excluded from the retailer’s bonus scheme.

Citizens Advice has said that the increasing frequency of zero-hour contracts, agency work and multiple part-time jobs make women who take maternity leave more vulnerable to discrimination.

According to the law, women are protected from losing their job, having their hours changed, or their responsibility reduced as a result of pregnancy. But the responsibility of enforcing these employment rights is spread across multiple regulating bodies, including HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

She said: “This confusing landscape means some bad bosses are getting away with treating their employees unfairly.

“There is an opportunity for the Government to consider bringing together the expertise of all current labour market enforcement functions into one well-resourced, effective body to investigate bad practice.”

The study suggests that more than 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs every year, twice the number reported in 2005.