Today, the Australian Government has announced it’s going to give more employees the right to request flexible working arrangements.
Pregnant women, new mothers and carers will soon have their right to ask their employer to work around their own personal needs enshrined in legislation – IF the Government has its way.
Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions thinks this is a good start but that far more needs to be done to make sure that new mums and pregnant women aren’t discriminated against at work.
She writes exclusively for Mamamia…
By GED KEARNEY
When I fell pregnant with my first child I was a 23 year old nursing student. I’ll never forget the moment I found out and the dread I felt telling the nuns who managed the hospital that I’d need to take a break from my studies.
I was worried that my career would end before it had begun. Family friendly work or study arrangements were unheard of then for a student nurse. It was commit full-time or nothing at all.
But I was lucky.
My wonderful, supportive mother vouched for me. She sat down across from my employer and informed them that I had the necessary support to return to nursing once the baby was born.
So I moved in with my mum, gave birth to my beautiful baby girls (twins) and 7 weeks later I resumed my nursing studies. My husband – a chef also on irregular hours – and I had two more babies.1
It was a haze of shift work; dropping kids off at kinder, school and childcare; picking them up; making ends meet and trying my hardest to be everything to everyone, a good mum and an effective nurse.
I’m not sure how I did it but I do remember popping a bottle of champagne the day my youngest finally started school.
Don’t get me wrong. There are no regrets. I don’t wish I’d given up nursing. But a system sympathetic to the needs of working mums would have made life a hell of a lot easier.
Twenty years later women are still being forced to choose: work or family. Want both? Then society still dictates severe consequences in the form of overwhelming workloads, finding yourself in insecure work and loss of wages and superannuation.
We still lack meaningful laws to give women a genuine and enforceable right to find a balance between family and work. This week Julia Gillard acknowledged the importance of this issue – she’s the first Prime Minister to do so in a very long time! – however what was proposed only gives people the right to ask for family friendly arrangements and the employer to say yes or no, end of story… which, in reality, is pointless.
The practical solution is that if an employer is unreasonable then, like all workplace issues, the pregnant woman or new mother or carer of a disabled or elderly adult should be allowed to contact Fair Work Australia so they can judge if the employer really considered the situation. Unfortunately, some employers need to be forced by law to be fair. In the meanwhile women in particular continue to suffer discrimination.