ACTU push for parents’ rights at work.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) have lodged a claim to the Fair Work Commission this week suggesting provisions to strengthen parental rights at work and potentially reduce the prominence of pregnancy discrimination within the Australian Workforce.  The claim seeks to cement the rights of parents at work across all modern awards, especially the rights of those parents returning to work from parental leave.

At present, a full time or part time employee returning to work from parental leave is able to request flexible working arrangements under the Fair Work Act. However within the current provisions an employer is under no specific obligation to agree to these requests. Unions have expressed concern that this framework allows a great number of employers to use parental leave to demote, sack, or otherwise adversely treat employees on their return to work.

The proposed changes would have two major limbs in respect of returning parents. Firstly, an employer would be compelled to accept a request for reduced hours or flexible workplace arrangements from a parent seeking to return to work. If the position was no longer available, then an alternative position would have to be offered unless “substantial countervailing business grounds” could be shown. Secondly, the ACTU suggest that those employees who change their work arrangements should have an automatic right to return to their former employment terms at any time within two years of the child’s birth. Both the reduction, and reversion, of the role would require 28 days’ written notice from the employee.

Further aspects of the claim include greater rights for parents prior to taking parental leave, including the right for pregnant workers to change their work arrangements to ensure safety for themselves and their baby, as well as two days of paid leave for employees to attend appointments associated with pregnancy, adoption or permanent care orders.

Also included in the claim this week are details of the ACTU’s proposal for the provision of ten days paid family and domestic violence leave. There are already two million workers in Australia covered by leave of this nature courtesy of union collective bargaining, but the ACTU are strongly pushing for its mandatory inclusion in the National Employment Standards, which would see it apply to all modern awards.

The ACTU believe that this package of laws would not only reduce the prominence of pregnancy discrimination, but also increase women’s participation in the workforce, which would flow on to positive benefits across the economy. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as the Australian Industry Group have both spoken out against the proposed laws, claiming that they are ‘unbalanced’ and ‘unworkable’, and may potentially allow the Fair Work Commission unreasonable scope to impose arrangements on employers.