Northern Territory

Anti-Discrimination Commission

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Widespread discrimination against pregnant workers still occurring in 2015

Date: 4 March 2015

Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sally Sievers is calling on Territory employers to know what their legal obligations are to their pregnant workers this International Women’s Day.

As recently announced in the “Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review” one in two (49%) mothers reported experiencing discrimination at some stage during pregnancy, maternity leave or on returning to work.

The report, based on data obtained through the National Prevalence Survey, reviewed both quantitative and qualitative data, including information from Northern Territory women and consultation with Territory employers.

Remarkable findings also included:

  • 91% of women did not make a formal complaint to their employer or government agencies;
  • 1 in 5 (18%) mothers were made redundant/restricted, dismissed or their contract was not renewed in this period;
  • 22% of women left the work force; and
  • 84% of mothers who experience discrimination reported negative impact, including mental health and financial hardship.

“Despite longstanding prohibitions against pregnancy/return to work discrimination, discrimination is widespread in relation to pregnancy and parenthood.
“In the Territory we receive eight to eleven pregnancy complaints per year and five to seventeen complaints relating to parenthood. This year we have already received six pregnancy complaints and thirteen parenthood complaints, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg” Ms Sievers said. 
The Anti-Discrimination Commission aims to raise awareness and understanding of the obligations and rights of pregnant women and working families.
“This type of workplace discrimination can have a significant impact, we are seeing women walk away from the workforce, lose confidence in themselves and their skills. As well as the impact on their mental health, financial hardship due to loss of employment and the inequality that this creates.
“The discrimination has a cost - not just to women, working parents and their families - but also to work places and the national economy.”

Australian and overseas research shows that flexible work practices benefit workers and employer’s and lead to increased efficiency, reduced absenteeism and turnover, reduced work stress, increased job satisfaction and increased capacity to attract and retain valuable employees.
Recommendations from the National Review include the dissemination of comprehensive and practical advice.
“It is important that women feel supported in managing their career while pregnant and returning to work, and feel confident that they don’t have to hide a pregnancy if applying for a promotion or that there are policies in place for parents who need to care for sick children.”

“This International Women’s Day let’s challenge the stereotypes regarding pregnant workers and parents and ask instead that women and employers become aware of their rights and obligations so that we can all enjoy equal participation in the labour force,” Ms Sievers said.

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