Submission: Australian Human Rights Commission Inquiry - Supporting Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work

In this submission, we emphasise the prevalence of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, provide some case examples, and discuss parental leave.

Some of the trends which RLC has noted in its work with people who have experienced pregnancy discrimination relate to difficulties with the discrimination complaints-handling process, such as discharging the burden of proof in a complaint under federal anti-discrimination law. As RLC understands that these issues may be the focus of other submissions, we have focused this submission on the difficulties related to pregnancy discrimination which our clients have experienced in their employment and recommended preventative measures to address those issues.

RLC has structured this submission in order to respond to the Australian Human Rights Commission's Guiding Questions, set out in its document entitled Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review - Community Organisations. The submission begins with an overview of the trends in work-related pregnancy discrimination which RLC has noted through its work with people who have experienced pregnancy discrimination in their employment. Based on those trends, we then make some observations of the limitations of the existing laws and policies aimed at addressing pregnancy discrimination at work. Following this, we review the best international practices in this area. We conclude with our recommendations for reform, based on our own experience and international best practice.

RLC's Recommendations

  1. RLC's key recommendation is that pregnancy discrimination at work should be addressed by the introduction of a generous, publicly funded paid parental leave scheme, which includes periods of leave that are non-transferrable between male and female parents and which provides universal coverage combined with modest eligibility restrictions.
  2. RLC recommends the amendment of the existing National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) relating to flexible working arrangements, to enable employees whose request for a flexible working arrangement is refused on reasonable business grounds to seek an independent review of that decision by the Fair Work Commission.
  3. RLC recommends the maintenance on a well-resourced and robust complaints-handling body for the investigation and conciliation of pregnancy-related discrimination complaints.
  4. RLC recommends the funding of legal advice and assistance services for the community in the area of employment and discrimination law.