New breastfeeding discrimination laws

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New breastfeeding discrimination laws

Discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding, as well as family responsibilities in employment, has been outlawed under new federal legislation.

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Discrimination on the basis of breastfeeding, as well as family responsibilities in employment, has been outlawed under new federal legislation.

The Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 was passed on Tuesday night by Federal Parliament. The major changes to be implemented by the new legislation include:
  • prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities for both men and women in all areas of employment
  • establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination, and allowing measures to be taken to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers
  • bringing in new protections for students from sexual harassment, including over the internet or by texting, as well as other grounds for sexual harassment
  • creation of the position of Age Discrimination Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Sexual harassment
 
Co-workers, supervisors, colleagues in other organisations, customers and clients are now included in the expanded grounds for sexual harassment.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said:
‘Importantly, the Bill also ensures that all students will be better protected from sexual harassment, whether it’s in the schoolyard, online or through more subtle forms of bullying, such as through text message.’
Family responsibilities

The Sex Discrimination Act has now been extended to recognise the ground of family responsibilities in all areas of employment, in relation to harassment and discrimination.

Breastfeeding is now established as a separate ground of discrimination, allowing measures to protect and to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis said:
‘... these amendments will make a positive difference for employees around the country.
 
Recognition of this in these changes to the Sex Discrimination Act legislation will ensure that parents can now be protected when making equitable choices for their work and caring responsibilities.’
The Australian Breastfeeding Association welcomed the new legislation, which, it says will make it ‘discriminatory for an employer to refuse to hire any woman who is breastfeeding, or for a restaurateur to decline to serve a patron who is breastfeeding’.
 
‘It’s unfortunate an act as normal as breastfeeding needs special protection’, said ABA president, Querida David.
 
‘More than 90% of mothers initiate breastfeeding yet the rates drop significantly, to just over 50% when babies are 6 months old, compared to 80% at 6 months in Norway — the goal set for Australia by the National Health and Medical Research Council Infant Feeding Guidelines. This large reduction in breastfeeding rates indicates that further laws are needed to support breastfed babies whether their mothers have returned to work or not.’

Indirect discrimination opposed
 
Amendments to strengthen the existing provisions against indirect discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities had been included in the Bill, however, these were opposed by the Opposition in the Senate.

Mr McClelland said:
‘We are disappointed that the Opposition has moved to limit important protections that would have helped both men and women to better balance work and family responsibilities without fear of potential penalty. Those protections would have complemented similar protections already available at the state and territory level, and it is disappointing that at a federal level the protections will not be as strong.’
Age Discrimination Commissioner
 
Meanwhile, the new office of Age Discrimination Commissioner is expected to commence at the Australian Human Rights Commission in July.

‘The Age Discrimination Commissioner will tackle the attitudes and stereotypes that can contribute to age discrimination at any age,’ Mr McClelland said.

‘The Government strongly believes people susceptible to age discrimination — young or old — deserve a dedicated advocate.’

‘The new Commissioner will play an important role in raising awareness among employers about the benefits that can be realised from the valuable contributions that senior Australians as well as younger employees can make, including in the workforce.’

 
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