Women being fired for getting pregnant is Queenstown’s “dirty little secret”, a local employment advocate claims.
David Buckingham has worked on half-a-dozen cases over the last 12 months where, he says, on hearing a staff member’s pregnant, bosses put the squeeze on them to leave – “on the most spurious of grounds”.
He suspects it’s because they’re not keen to bear the cost of maternity leave.
Buckingham’s going public after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her pregnancy last week. She plans to remain in the top job.
He’s dealing with cases where employers are finding grounds to dismiss pregnant employees, or ensuring they can’t earn an income by reducing their hours or changing their shifts. Employers will use lawyers to muddy the waters to try to justify their actions, he says, “but underlying there’s a financial incentive to discriminate”.
Buckingham: “It is not only migrant labour that’s being exploited, it’s Kiwis as well.”
He can’t name his clients while he’s acting for them but is happy to outline a few recent cases.
In the first, he says a woman working in an essential industry, for an out-of-town company, disclosed she was pregnant and asked for extra health and safety protection so she didn’t harm her unborn child.
Buckingham says her boss raised a minor employment issue, then invited her to a meeting a fortnight ago where she was fired.
“There was no opportunity to consider the other side and she wasn’t represented at any point.”
She’s written to Ardern.
“For the 14th day in a row of being unemployed and [having] nowhere to go, I am feeling helpless and without much hope,” it reads.
In another case, Buckingham says a retail worker who’d smashed her sales targets told her boss she was pregnant.
“[The boss] simply pushed the targets out, started performance-managing her hard, and fired her on notice.”
It resulted in a confidential settlement.
In a third case, a “hard-working” pregnant hospo worker, on a work visa, was sacked for allegedly stealing from her employer.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to back it up.”
Buckingham suspects many other mums-to-be have been forced out of the labour force but haven’t had the courage to fight back – especially those on work visas who don’t want to rock the boat.
Though some cases go to the Employment Relations Authority, “commonly, an employer, realising they’re backed into a corner, will pay a nominal amount of money to make it go away, in a confidential settlement”.
“It’s Queenstown’s dirty little secret”, he says.
He adds, however, “the vast majority of employers will comply with the law”.