On 25 July, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its report into workplace discrimination against new parents: Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review.
On 25 July, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its report into workplace discrimination against new parents: Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review. One woman told the Commission:
Overall, I would describe my experiences during pregnancy, whilst on parental leave and on returning to work as harrowing, disappointing and probably the worst experience of my life.
This woman said that despite being thrilled about the pregnancy and being physically well, she felt powerless, vulnerable and fearful about her job security. Stories like this should attract the close attention of parliamentarians and of the Government.
The last Labor Government radically improved the way that our community supports new parents. In 2010 we legislated for Australia’s first national Paid Parental Leave scheme, providing 18 weeks of paid leave to working parents.
When that legislation was before the House, the Member for Jagajaga, then Minister for Families, said:
The government’s scheme meets the challenges and realities of modern family life—giving parents more time at home with their new baby and helping them balance their work and family responsibilities.
In 2012 we built on this scheme by providing for a further two weeks of dad and partner pay.
These were great Labor reforms of which I am very proud. These measures support ordinary working Australians in a crucial time in their lives.
In 2013, the Labor Government built on this legacy by asking the Commission to undertake research to identify the prevalence of discrimination in relation to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave.
The National Review, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, has produced a ground-breaking dataset about the incidence of workplace discrimination against new parents.
Half of all mothers experienced discrimination in the workplace either during pregnancy, parental leave, or on return to their job.
The Review showed that alarming numbers of working mothers lose their jobs or are threatened with dismissal. They are deprived of opportunities and career progression.
This is not just about job security and conditions, though, it goes to the dignity of work. Large numbers of working mothers are robbed of the respect and dignity they deserve as workers and as mothers by the negative comments or attitudes of their employers and co-workers.
And this problem does not just afflict women – more than a quarter of fathers were also discriminated against.
Indeed, this is a problem for us all. The consultation undertaken by the Commission makes clear that discrimination against working parents is an issue affecting all workplaces and the wider economy.
The Review makes a strong case that workplace discrimination not only creates significant barriers to women returning to work after having children, it also comes at a cost to business productivity.
The Commission has made a number of important recommendations to deal with the serious problems it has uncovered.
The Review recommends an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to extend the discrimination ground of family responsibilities to cover indirect discrimination and include a positive duty on employers to reasonably accommodate workers who are pregnant or have family responsibilities.
There is also a recommendation for Government to fund a national prevalence survey every four years on discrimination associated with pregnancy, parental leave and return to work after parental leave.
The passage of Labor’s paid parental leave policies into law was evidence that, as the Member for Fraser said while speaking to the dad and partner pay legislation, ‘[t]he work we do in this place impacts on people's lives.’
The Review makes it clear that discrimination in the workplace has an enormous impact on the lives of parents and families in our community.
In Government, Labor showed that it could take action to improve the lot of working parents, to use Government to tangibly improve the lives of families.
This Government should rise to the same task. The Government has now had several months to consider the Review. It should formally respond to the Review as soon as possible, and begin seriously considering how its recommendations might be implemented.
Labor is happy to assist in this work, but it is clear that the seriousness of the problem deserves a response from Government now.