Helping women avoid pregnancy discrimination

7 July 2010

The Fair Work Ombudsman has launched a national campaign aimed at helping women avoid pregnancy discrimination at work.

About 100,000 information packs are being sent to hospitals, GPs and other health service providers in metropolitan and regional areas throughout Australia.

Pregnant women will receive the packs when they register with their preferred health professional after becoming pregnant.

The packs contain magazines and pamphlets detailing the workplace rights of pregnant women, what constitutes pregnancy discrimination, the harm pregnancy discrimination can cause and how the Fair Work Ombudsman can help women who experience it.  

In addition, the Fair Work Ombudsman will distribute thousands of maternity discrimination posters for display in the waiting rooms of GPs and hospitals in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and some regional centres.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Leigh Johns says the Agency received more than 70 pregnancy discrimination complaints last financial year.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has had the power to investigate discrimination in the workplace since July 1, 2009.

Fair Work inspectors can also investigate allegations of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.

A specialist anti-discrimination team has been established within the Agency’s Complex Investigations & Innovation branch.

Mr Johns says maternity discrimination has been one of the most common complaints, prompting the new national awareness campaign.

“We want women to be aware of their rights so they can identify when they are being subjected to pregnancy discrimination and know they can turn to the Fair Work Ombudsman for help. The news of impending parenthood should be met with delight, not discrimination,” he says.

Mr Johns says pregnancy discrimination can include a range of employer behaviours, such as:

  • failing to let an employee take parental leave,
  • declining to keep a job open,
  • demotion during pregnancy or on return from parental leave, or
  • refusing to promote an employee because they are pregnant.

“Threatening to engage in any of these discriminatory acts also constitutes discrimination,” Mr Johns says.   

An example of one of the complaints voluntarily resolved by an employer following the intervention of the Fair Work Ombudsman is that of a Melbourne professional woman who lodged a complaint after she returned from maternity leave to find that her title and client-base had been changed, affecting her ability to secure her bonus.

After Fair Work inspectors intervened, the company directly addressed the employee’s concerns and implemented new processes for all employees returning from maternity leave.

Mr Johns says the company’s action restored its positive relationship with the employee and negated the need for further action.        

The Fair Work Ombudsman also announced today that it had launched its first pregnancy discrimination case in the Federal Court in Sydney.

Facing court is Wongtas Pty Ltd, operator of a commercial printing business in Riverwood, NSW, and its two directors Ding Guo Wang and Xiao Yu Zhang.

“Our objective is to work towards eliminating systemic workplace discrimination, particularly the more insidious forms that impact on vulnerable employees,” Mr Johns says.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has information about maternity discrimination available at its website at www.fwo.gov.au.

Employers or employees seeking assistance can also contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 from 8am to 6pm weekdays.Translations are available by calling 13 14 50.

Media inquiries:

Craig Bildstien, Director, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
0419 818 484
craig.bildstien@fwo.gov.au

Richard Honey, Adviser, Media & Stakeholder Relations,
(03) 9954 2716, 0457 924 146
richard.honey@fwo.gov.au

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