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.