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Issue #1601      July 10, 2013

Chance to deliver for new mothers at work

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) plans to take an active part in a new Human Rights Commission inquiry into the extent of workplace discrimination against women who are pregnant or seeking to return to work after taking parental leave.

Convenor of the AMWU’s National Women’s Committee Anne Donnellan said the inquiry is strongly supported by the union as it aims to bridge the gap between the rights of women and what actually happens in workplaces.

The inquiry announced by the Labor government will collect and analyse information on how widespread the discrimination is.

Many people know of instances where women have been demoted, had their hours reduced, only offered full-time work or even sacked when returning from parental leave but this has not been fully quantified.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick will oversee a detailed national survey to be conducted in August, then hold a series of forums with unions, employers, workers and other groups as a basis for recommending how to effectively make anti-discrimination measures work.

The inquiry was announced before the Parliament passed Labor government changes to the Fair Work Act giving carers and parents returning from parental leave an express right to request flexible work arrangements.

The law also includes a requirement for employers to consult on the impacts of roster changes on workers’ family lives.

Ms Donnellan said that while women’s workplace rights were also formally protected under the FWA and sex discrimination legislation, many continue to report disadvantage at work.

While union members can get advice through their delegate and organiser, many employers continue to require rigid workplace practices and rosters without the reasonable flexibility that workers need so they can balance work and family.

“Women should not be placed in a position of having to forgo their job and income security because of caring responsibilities,” she said.

Ms Donnellan said many women confronted by demotions, or unreasonable employer rostering demands when trying to return to work decided instead to quit, which was a loss for the member and for their industry.

Another key area of importance for the AMWU was the Fair Work Act change to improve protections for pregnant employees, particularly the right to transfer to a safe job.

AMWU delegate Noo Rodewald had pioneered this cause at Queensland Newspapers, when her persistence finally forced a reluctant management to transfer her away from a print area job working with chemicals during her pregnancy.

AMWU printing industry delegate Jodie Wilson said discrimination against mothers trying to return to work remained widespread.

“I think many employers play on people’s ignorance of their rights when they want to return to work after having a child, they get all sorts of scenarios thrown at them and they don’t realise they are covered by legislation,” she said.

“People often need to come back slowly, part-time initially, with the extra responsibility of a really little kid but that doesn’t mean they should lose their right to full-time work later.”   

Next article – Cleaners welcome Fair Work Ombudsman’s audit

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