In 1998 the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission initiated an inquiry into pregnancy discrimination. The following is a summary of the submission put to that Inquiry by the SDA.
Subsequent to, and as a natural sequence to this Inquiry, the Attorney General should request the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into and report on matters relating to parental leave from work and return to work arrangements after such leave.
Recognising that many families experience financial difficulties as a result of pregnancy, the SDAEA recommends to HREOC that it suggest to the government that it:
- increase the level of family payments for low income families,
- double the current maternity allowance payment,
- extend eligibility for the parenting allowance.
HREOC should recommend to the Federal Government and the States that they ratify and implement ILO Convention 103.
The SDAEA welcomes the production and publication of guidelines as long overdue. This publication needs to be widely distributed and supported by a broad education campaign. On going resources need to be made available for continuing education and enforcement. Both employer and employee organisations should be encouraged and supported by HREOC to assist in the wide distribution of such material.
That a new allowable award matter be introduced which allows for the industrial parties to deal comprehensively with the subject of anti-discrimination.
The SDAEA recommends the tightening of existing occupational health and safety laws and the inclusion of specific references to the needs of pregnant women in all regulations. These should be applied uniformly across all states and territories.
The SDAEA again supports the development of guidelines, as requested by the Attorney General, which could be distributed in workplaces. Information which shows the relationship between health and safety and discrimination laws, and how they can work together in practice, should be included.
The SDAEA recommends the development of a Code of Practice on Pregnancy and Work which is developed as a national standard by representatives from Worksafe, HREOC, Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business, ACTU and ACCI. This should then be adopted uniformly by all States.
The SDAEA recommends the clarification of vicarious liability in the case of breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act, especially in regard to contract workers.
The SDAEA recommends that, subject to comments made earlier where such some clarifications of legislation are necessary, the coverage of the Sex Discrimination Act should be extended to enable all pregnant and potentially pregnant workers to be covered by the Act.
The SDAEA recommends that clearer direction be provided in the Sex Discrimination Act regarding requirements by employers for medical certificates concerning pregnancy.
The SDAEA also recommends that HREOC raise with the Industrial Relations Commission this matter with the view to having the Commission determine that a similar provision should form part of the core ‘safety net’ and consequently be a provision in all awards and agreements.
The SDAEA recommends that HREOC examine ways of promoting to employers the need for them to take appropriate steps to enable women to more easily be able to reconcile work, pregnancy and children.
The SDAEA recommends that the Industrial Relations Act be amended to enable any casual employee whose employment is terminated because of pregnancy or potential pregnancy, to seek a remedy.
The SDAEA recommends that employers be required to give each new employee a summary of their rights and obligations under the SDA and other relevant legislation.
Awards and agreements should be required to have a note appended to them containing this summary.
The SDAEA recommends that HREOC recommend to the Government that the issue of protection for pregnant women at work be expressly made an allowable award matter so that the industrial parties can negotiate and include in awards and agreements provisions designed to protect pregnant women at work.
Provisions of the SDA relating to accommodation of pregnancy at work need to be clarified and tightened.
Improved ergonomic conditions and access to seating need to be provided for pregnant employees. This matter should be referred to NOHSC for action.
The SDAEA recommends that all relevant OHS issues be included in any guidelines or Code of Practice which is developed.
The SDAEA recommends that educational material regarding sexual harassment include specific information about harassment of pregnant employees.
The SDAEA recommends that harassment and inappropriate behaviour towards pregnant employees be given significant coverage in the guidelines to be developed as part of this Inquiry.
That HREOC recommend to the Industrial Relations Commission that Parental Leave clauses in awards and agreements be amended to provide for long term casuals to receive parental leave. In addition, casual employment should be taken into account when determining maternity leave entitlements for part time and full time employees.
The SDAEA recommends that very clear guidelines be established which emphasise the key role of external medical advice and the very limited role for internal medical advice in relation to pregnancy at the workplace.
The SDAEA recommends to HREOC that it suggest to the Industrial Relations Commission that it reopen the family leave test case to ensure that the families of pregnant workers are adequately catered for.
That HREOC ensure that there is material freely and readily available to the community on how to make a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act.