The majority of modern Australian families rely on two incomes to meet their financial obligations, however, workplace laws and practices have not kept pace with the needs of modern working families.
The lack of flexible, supportive workplaces for working parents is why employees consistently rate balancing work and family as one of their most important workplace issues.
This is particularly so for parents returning to work from parental leave and is one of the reasons Australia has one of the lowest participation rates for mothers in the OECD.
The recent Australian Human Rights Commission national inquiry into pregnancy and return to work discrimination showed that one in two mothers are discriminated against at work and of those, around one quarter are forced to resign.
Under current laws, parents may request flexible work arrangements to balance their caring responsibilities, but there is no obligation on employers to demonstrate they have tried to accommodate an employee’s request and employees have no right of appeal if an employer unreasonably refuses their request. The ACTU is seeking to improve workers rights in this area.
Eleanor was a Department Manager at a large supermarket retailer.
When she returned from parental leave, she was told she could not return to her job
on a part-time basis. Eleanor had to choose between returning to her role full-time (leaving her child in full-time care) or accepting a casual sales assistant position.
Like Eleanor, many workers are forced to resign or accept lower pay, lower status and insecure jobs after taking a period of parental leave.
A CLAIM FOR IMPROVEMENTS
The ACTU has lodged a claim in the Fair Work Commission for a clause in all awards to:
- Create a right for parents to return to their pre-parental leave position part time or on reduced hours which employers may only refuse on serious countervailing business grounds;
- Provide employees with an avenue of appeal if their employer unreasonably refuses the request to return to work on part time or reduced hours;
- Create a provision where, if an employer is unable to accommodate an employee’s return to their pre-parental leave position part time, they may accommodate the request in a suitable alternative position of similar status and pay;
- Entitle parents who have returned part time to go back to the position and work arrangements they held prior to taking parental leave two years from the birth or adoption of their child;
- Entitle employees to two days paid leave to attend appointments associated with pregnancy, adoption or permanent care
Some employers have taken technical objections to this claim, which must be dealt with by the Fair Work Commission before the merit of the case can be argued. We will keep you informed of progress on this important issue.
Over the past few months, we have been dealing with some issues surrounding disability discrimination in workplaces throughout the State.
Disability comes in many forms, and the major concerns facing our members in this area are that of illness discrimination both permanent and temporary.
Late last year, we received a call from a young member who was epileptic and had suﬀered a seizure at work.
She was concerned for her safety as she worked in an isolated area in a supermarket at night. Also, due to her seizure she was unable to drive and her shift ended at midnight, which meant that she was dependant on her mother to pick her up and drive her home after work.
Her mother worked full-time, which also made things diﬃcult.
Our member’s GP certified that her medical condition required her to have early nights and limited stress. This meant that her working hours were not conducive to managing her illness.
The SDA sought advice from Epilepsy Tasmania in order for us to better understand our member’s condition, and we were then able to assist this member despite resistance from the company concerned.
A short time later, we were contacted by another member who was also an epileptic, had also experienced a seizure at work and had suﬀered a trauma to his head as a result. He had been taken to hospital for treatment.
The seizure had been provoked by a change to his medication and he was provided with a certificate confirming this.
When our member returned to work, he was advised that he could no longer retain the position he had held prior to his seizure. The company claimed that he was a Workplace Health and Safety risk.
We made contact with the company who refused all attempts by us to obtain a satisfactory outcome for our member and to educate management and staﬀ on epilepsy and correct procedures in the event of another seizure.
Completely unacceptable comments made by both companies with relation to our members’ illness disability included:
- “We wouldn’t have employed her if we had ”
- “He bled everywhere and wasn’t even sorry that other people had to clean it ”
- “He wasn’t sorry that he caused such a disruption to the ”
Despite our attempts to assist our member, the company stood fast on its decision to move him.
The SDA National Oﬃce became involved and evidence was gained from Epilepsy Tasmania and the Anti- Discrimination Commission.
The company was eventually left with no alternative but to concede.
Our member still remains in his original position, and Epilepsy Tasmania was commissioned to provide a training session in the workplace to educate and avoid discrimination from management and other employees in the future.
There had also been reports from Delegates stating that strobing lights were not being attended to in workplaces which can, in some cases, contribute to epileptic seizures, despite these matters being brought to the attention of management.
EDUCATION IS THE KEY
As a result of these issues, we included a session at the Delegates conference in May where Katie Biddlestone, National Women’s and Industrial Oﬃcer, spoke about discrimination, and Bronwyn Stirkul, Education and Training Co-ordinator for Epilepsy Tasmania educated all Delegates on epilepsy in general, discrimination, the law surrounding discrimination and the services they can provide to workplaces.
Shortly after the conference, we were contacted by another member who had also experienced discrimination in her workplace as a result of epilepsy.
This time her hours had been reduced, putting stress on her and her family.
Once again the company stood fast on its decision, but this time we were better equipped to deal with the situation and the matter was rectified in a timely manner, reducing emotional stress to our member.
Fortunately, not all companies are the same and we have also been advised by one of our Delegates from a Kmart store as to the positive treatment given to her when she advised her store manager of her epileptic condition.
Our member was accommodated with shifts that would suit her and the store manager assisted her with travel to and from work as she was restricted from driving.
Companies have an obligation by law to provide a healthy and safe workplace.
If anyone is experiencing discrimination due to a disability, illness or any other reason, please contact us immediately.
For further information or advice on epilepsy, we encourage members to phone Epilepsy Tasmania on
1300 852 853 or 6344 6881 or visit www.epilepsytasmania.org.au.
The ACTU is seeking paid domestic violence leave on behalf of all Award employees.
Each week, one woman dies as a result of domestic violence in Australia.
ABS figures show that two thirds of the 400,000 plus people (mostly women) who experience domestic violence each year are workers.
Employment and financial stability is critical to escaping a violent and abusive relationship.
Paid domestic violence leave recognises that workers experiencing domestic violence have often exhausted their personal leave entitlements, and can least aﬀord to take unpaid leave at a time when financial security is critical.
Domestic violence is an issue which can have a significant impact on our members at work, and needs to be taken seriously by all members of our community, including employers.
Unions, including the SDA, and employers have negotiated over 500 workplace agreements which provide domestic violence leave. As a result of this, more than 1.6 million employees currently have access to paid domestic violence leave across a wide range of industries.
EXTENDING THESE PROVISIONS
The ACTU wants to extend this entitlement to all employees, and has lodged a claim in the Fair Work Commission for a clause to be included in all Awards.
The ACTU claim:
- Will directly benefit more than six million workers;
- Provides for 10 days paid domestic violence leave for workers to attend court appearances, medical and legal appointments and make safety and re-location arrangements;
- Allows employees to request a change in working arrangements, such as start and finish times and other safety measures such as changing work email and phone
Some employers have made technical objections to the ACTU clause, which must be dealt with by the Fair Work Commission before the merit of the case can be argued.
The SDA will keep you informed of progress on this matter.
If you are experiencing or know of someone in your workplace who may be experiencing domestic violence contact the SDA. We can help!
If you would like more information please visit the Domestic Violence page in members section of the website.
Members, we are now half way through the year with the SDA Tasmanian Branch dealing with attacks on the reduction or abolition of penalty rates – attacks which are becoming more prevalent.
In May, a Select Committee of the Legislative Council resolved to hold and report upon the challenges surrounding the growth of business enterprises within Tasmania, with evidence and submissions forwarded to the Productivity Commission in regard to their inquiry.
The Productivity Commission has recommended that penalty rates be abolished, which has the potential to force an eﬀective pay cut of up to $300 per week for a retail worker, without any oﬀset.
The SDA submitted that the rationale of payment of penalty rates for work performed in unsociable hours such as on evenings, nights and weekends is to compensate employees for the disadvantages to which workers are subject to when working such hours.
The SDA has always supported penalty rates as an integral part of the wages system. The SDA is totally opposed to the abolition of penalty rates in the modern award system.
The view that higher rates ought to be diminished on weekends because of deregulated shop trading hours is flawed and incorrect.
Further, Labor has established the Fair Work Taskforce, a Senate Committee that launched its first Hearing in Launceston on Monday 29 June at the Grand Chancellor Hotel.
Four Senators,including Tasmanian Senators Helen Polley and Catryna Bylick, took submissions from SDA workers who were keen to voice their concerns about the impact the Abbott policies are having on jobs, families and communities as well as important workplace entitlements like penalty rates and the minimum wage.
The majority of workers in Australia working within the lowest-paid industries are predominantly female, young and employed on a casual or part-time basis.
The ability of low-paid individuals to improve their position is limited, and is recognised as such by the ILO Convention to which Australia is a signatory.
Balancing the needs of workers and employers requires a fair and strong system, underpinned by supportive legislation.
The key purpose of the Fair Work Act is to deliver such a system, and our members who gathered at the Taskforce Hearing were able to demonstrate how their incomes would be reduced if the penalties they receive were removed, bringing them almost to the poverty line.
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