‘Maternity harassment’ victims assail lack of protection for pregnant working women


Staff Writer

Female workers who experienced workplace discrimination and bullying when they were pregnant have called on the government to live up to its promise to stamp out what is known in Japanese as matahara, or “maternity harassment.”

In a reflection of conservative Japan’s staunch “men at work and women at home” corporate mindset, pregnant employees are sometimes fired, demoted or stuck with physically demanding labor despite pleas for a lighter workload, five victims said on Wednesday. They were speaking at a news conference in Tokyo organized by nonprofit group Matahara Net.

A week ago the government said it is considering legal amendments to crack down on workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

Among the five women who spoke out Wednesday was Yukari Nishihara, a caregiver working at a day care facility in Fukuoka Prefecture. In August 2013, she informed her employer that she was pregnant. Her boss ignored her request for a workload that involved less heavy-lifting. Instead, she was put in charge of duties such as bathing patients, moving them between wheelchairs and carrying heavy equipment up and down the stairs.

“I found the company’s treatment equivalent to encouraging miscarriage,” said Nishihara, who had previously experienced difficulties conceiving but gave birth to a healthy baby.

The Labor Standards Law stipulates that employers must transfer a pregnant woman to light job responsibilities if she has so requested.

Another, a clinical psychologist in the Kanto region, who asked not to be identified, said her working conditions worsened without her consent after she returned from a maternity leave. Her monthly pay is now half what it used to be.

“Prime Minister Abe trumpets (the government’s) women-friendly policies. But the reality is some employers don’t even understand they are prohibited by laws — including the equal employment opportunity law — from arbitrarily changing pregnant workers’ employment conditions to their disadvantage,” she said.

In a separate move, a former contract flight attendant for Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier, filed a complaint with the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday to protest the airline’s alleged decision to terminate her employment because she was pregnant.

According to the complaint, the 32-year-old Japanese woman, who asked not to be named, was notified of the impending termination of her three-year contract in January 2013, a month after she went on maternity leave.

The plaintiff argues the company’s actions run counter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law. She is seeking about ¥3.2 million in unpaid salary.

Alitalia denied that the dismissal was related to her pregnancy, saying it was rather part of the company’s effort to reduce payroll amid a deteriorating economy in Europe.