Halliday farewells workplaces with pregnancy guidelines

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Halliday farewells workplaces with pregnancy guidelines

The release of guidelines governing the general behaviour of employers and workers during a colleague’s pregnancy should not detract from the fact that pregnancy was an individual experience, and each working woman had the right to be consulted about workplace issues affecting her, the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner said today.

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The release of guidelines governing the general behaviour of employers and workers during a colleague’s pregnancy should not detract from the fact that pregnancy was an individual experience, and each working woman had the right to be consulted about workplace issues affecting her, the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner said today.

Susan Halliday launched the guidelines in Brisbane yesterday, and is following up with a tour through each state to publicise them and say farewell, as she nears the end of her three-year term.

The guidelines, which follow on from the landmark Pregnant and Productive report (see previous story), cover all steps of the working process, from recruiting, through pregnancy to handling maternity leave. They apply to Commonwealth Government departments and agencies, private sector organisations, unions, non-State Government educational institutions and community and voluntary organisations.

They have received backing from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Recruiting was still one of the most misunderstood areas, Halliday told the Sydney audience. She told of one woman who had gone for a job and when asked ‘Are you married’ and ‘Do you have children’ thought, ‘Do I really have to answer this?’ before replying no to both questions. The interviewer asked what was wrong with her.

Another woman posed similar questions replied that she didn’t think she had to answer them, and was told she’d get nowhere in the job stakes with that attitude.

The guideline poses questions that should not be asked: ‘Are you planning to start a family?’ and indicates alternative appropriate questions: ‘The position will require regular travel for periods ranging from overnight to one week. Are you able to undertake this travel?’

Leave was another area that required sensitivity, Halliday said. While some women wanted to be in touch with their office throughout their leave period, others regarded this as their private time, and that was up to them.

The guidelines also present, for the first time, answers to difficult questions like how employers should handle a return to work for a woman suffering a miscarriage or whose baby has been stillborn. Halliday said the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had come under fire for this, but she felt it was an important issue to address.

She said as her term closed she was disappointed that only one-half of her Pregnant and Productive recommendations had been ticked off on, and that in reality only one-third had been implemented because of financial constraints.

Halliday also joked that in some ways she would be ‘really glad to take this hat off’, as it was an all-encompassing role. For example, meeting someone in the pub and telling them she was the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner was a sure-fire way to generate debate.

But she also said she was pleased corporates like McDonalds, who recently introduced 12 months’ maternity leave for casuals (see previous story), were leading the way, and that certain organisations like ACCI were coming round to the idea.

The guidelines are available on the HREOC website:  http://www.hreoc.gov.au/

 
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