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Calls to Improve Work Protections for Pregnant Women

28 July 2014 at 11:34 am
Staff Reporter
Victoria Legal Aid has thrown its support behind the Australian Human Rights Commission recommendations to improve legal protections for pregnant women at work and help them take up their legal rights.

Staff Reporter | 28 July 2014 at 11:34 am


Calls to Improve Work Protections for Pregnant Women
28 July 2014 at 11:34 am

Victoria Legal Aid has thrown its support behind the Australian Human Rights Commission recommendations to improve legal protections for pregnant women at work and help them take up their legal rights.

The recently released final report, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, found that one in two women in Australia and over a quarter of fathers or partners surveyed reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace during their pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

As part of the final report, the Human Rights Commission has made its recommendations directed towards government, workplaces and the wider Australian community, all of whom have an interest in increasing women’s participation in the workforce and creating supportive workplaces.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the recommendations were directed towards a much better implementation of legal obligations through greater provision of information about employee rights and employer obligations.

The report reveals four overarching principles that frame the recommendations and provide the foundation for reform.

The principles are:

  • Understanding rights and obligations is the starting point;

  • Dismantling harmful stereotypes, practices and behaviours about pregnant women and working parents is critical to eliminating discrimination related to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work;

  • Strong standards and improved implementation drives change and helps to create productive workplaces;

  • Ongoing monitoring, evaluation and research will help to shape effective action.

“This is an approach intended to help plug the gap that allows this discrimination to take place – the gap between the legal framework and the implementation of the law,” she said.

Commissioner Broderick said the recommendations also emphasised the need for strategies and approaches designed to help dismantle stereotypes and drive cultural change within workplaces, as well as the importance of further monitoring, evaluation and research to shape effective action.

“Research and modelling shows that if businesses and other employers are able to retain women and men who are becoming new parents by eradicating pregnancy/ return to work discrimination, there will be a considerable economic dividend to both them and the wider economy,” Broderick said.

“It’s a human issue first. Workplace discrimination has a damaging impact on the lives of parents. But by working together, we can achieve positive results for all.”

VLA Equality Law Program Manager Melanie Schleiger said it was disheartening to see that for many women the hardest parts of pregnancy and motherhood was keeping their job.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between motherhood and a career,” Schleiger said.

“Yet women have told us that their employers make the choice for them by firing them, freezing them out of the workplace, or refusing their request to return to work part time.

“This leads to anxiety and depression, as well as financial insecurity and reduced career opportunities.”

Schleiger said lodging a legal complaint was the last thing that most expecting mums or new mums wanted to do, but it meant that employers get away scot-free.

“Based on our knowledge of the sorts of barriers women are encountering, Victoria Legal Aid has now made a video encouraging women to speak up, understand their rights and not ‘stay mum’,” she said.

“Many women are not seeking advice because they may be daunted by the thought that they will have to go to court and be prepared for expensive and exhausting litigation.

“Our video helps them to realise they have rights, and they don’t necessarily have to go to court to get a better outcome.  We encourage them to call us for free advice if they’re having any problems at work in relation to pregnancy discrimination.”

The Federal Government has responded to the review findings by committing $150,000 to the Commission to develop resources for employers on how to best manage and support working parents through pregnancy, parental leave and on return to work.

To view the final report and its recommendations, click here.

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  • Cate from Leederville says:

    I can't believe an article like this needs to be written in 2014. Since becoming pregnant for the first time, and chatting to many mothers and mothers to be, I have been overwhelmed with stories of discrimination, and simply a lack of support that women have had from their employers. Many from men, however what has upset me the most is that a lot of the lack of support has been from female employers; many who have children themselves. When will these employers realise that by nurturing and supporting these women in their maternity leave, they will be investing in the long term productivity and outcomes of their companies? Investing in current staff is much more effective and economical than losing and training up new staff members all of the time. Luckily I have a very supportive and flexible employer whom I respect, and will therefore work hard for when I return to work as I feel valued in the workplace.

  • Thanks Pro Bono Australia for covering this important issue. If any of your readers would like to watch Victoria Legal Aid's YouTube video, it's available here:

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