Services pregnancy pay-offs 'illegal'

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The Independent Online
THE HUGE sums awarded in compensation to some servicewomen who were sacked after they became pregnant were illegal because industrial tribunals had failed to apply the law correctly, the Government argued yesterday, writes Ian MacKinnon.

The payments, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds for routine dismissal in the 16th week of pregnancy, were unlawfully generous, the Ministry of Defence says. But, on the first day of a hearing into seven cases by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in London, it was accepted that the MoD had been wrong to force about 5,700 women to leave between 1978 and 1990 and they were entitled to some compensation.

But David Pannick QC, for the Government, told the hearing that it was vital the size of the awards was kept in perspective, especially since there were wide discrepancies in the level of orders. The sums awarded by industrial tribunals across England and Wales were forced on Britain by a European directive, which meant Britain had broken the law by forcing pregnant women to quit and by a subsequent European Court of Justice ruling which said the pounds 11,000 ceiling for sexual discrimination was illegal.

Mr Pannick said that, of the 3,918 claims submitted to the MoD so far, 2,180 cases had either been settled or disposed of with overall compensation of more than pounds 16m. However, the ministry estimates the total bill could rise to pounds 100m.

The four-day appeal concerns seven awards, ranging from pounds 174,000 plus lost pension to a former Petty Officer, down to pounds 24,588 to a woman who lost her army job.

Mr Pannick said the appeals before the tribunal regarded the criteria that industrial tribunals had employed to calculate the levels of compensation.

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