this product is unavailable for purchase using a firm account, please log in with a personal account to make this purchase.

According to merit?: Listen and learn

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(9) LIJ, p. 82

Workers need flexible and family-friendly work policies to become the norm, not the exception.

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick says that in 2008 there is a fundamental mismatch between caring responsibilities and the structure of our workplaces.

Ms Broderick in July this year launched an action plan which includes encouraging family-friendly work practices. The plan is a product of a nationwide “listening tour” which culminated in the 2008 Gender Equality: What matters to Australian women and men – listening tour community report.1

Ms Broderick says no longer can our workplaces only afford to value what is known as the ideal worker (male, without caring responsibilities and able to exceed full-time work hours).

She says this model has never worked well for women and, increasingly, does not work for men either. She says there is little evidence to show that employers are encouraging employees to be more flexible in the way they work.

On her listening tour Ms Broderick2 asked people all over Australia whether flexible and family-friendly work practices were widely available and working effectively.

Participants told her that workplace structures and the expectations that accompany paid work significantly limited the choices that women and men made about how they managed their family responsibilities.

Men also talked of lacking choices, with employers often resistant to offering flexible or part-time work. And the message she heard loud and clear was the need for a supportive workplace culture.

Family-friendly policies include a range of telecommuting and remote access, productive part-time work arrangements including at senior levels, shorter working hours, parental leave (paid and unpaid) and child care.

While there is much debate at the moment about the need for a paid parental leave system in Australia as well as unpaid leave, the right for employees to ask for family- friendly work arrangements is generating a lot of air time.

At federal level, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has announced a review of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act, to look at discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities. The Act currently only covers individuals if they are sacked because of family responsibilities, and provides even less coverage for men.

In Victoria, recent changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 by the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Family Responsibilities) Act 2008, which came into effect on 1 September, expand the range of what constitutes discrimination against parents or carers in employment or employment-related areas.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission CEO Dr Helen Szoke said the recent amendments were a step in the right direction and that “coupled with the labour shortage [this] means that many women can afford to be more assertive about negotiating family friendly conditions”.3

The new changes provide that:

  • An employer must not, in relation to the work arrangements of a person offered employment, unreasonably refuse to accommodate the responsibilities that the person has as a parent or carer (s13A). An employer may, for example, be able to accommodate a person’s responsibilities as a parent or carer by offering work on the basis that the person could work
    additional daily hours to provide for a shorter working week or occasionally work from home.
  • An employer must not, in relation to the work arrangements of an employee, unreasonably refuse to accommodate the responsibilities that the employee has as a parent or carer (s14A). An employer may, for example, be able to accommodate an employee’s responsibilities as a parent or carer by allowing the employee to work from home on a Wednesday morning or have a later start time on a Wednesday or, if the employee works on a part-time basis, by rescheduling a regular staff meeting so that the employee can attend.
  • A principal must not, in relation to the work arrangements of a contract worker, unreasonably refuse to accommodate the responsibilities that the contract worker has as a parent or carer (s15A).
  • A firm comprising five or more partners must not, in the work arrangements of a person invited to become a partner or of a partner, unreasonably refuse to accommodate the responsibilities that the person or partner has as a parent or carer (s31A).
  • Unreasonable refusal factors vary slightly in each of these sections but include a range of factors such as the person’s circumstances, including the nature of his or her responsibilities as a parent or carer; the role; the arrangements required to accommodate those responsibilities; the financial circumstances of the employer; the size and nature of the workplace and the employer’s business; the effect on the workplace and the employer’s business of accommodating those responsibilities, including financial impact, the number of persons who would benefit from or be disadvantaged, impact on efficiency and productivity, consequences for the employer of making such accommodation; and consequences for the person of not making such accommodation..

There has never been a more pressing time for employees to ask for family-friendly work practices to suit their own circumstances; and for employers to consider individual employee requests and to “spring clean” their family-friendly policies in the light of this legislation.

SIMONE JACOBSON is a committee member of the WBA and former WBA convenor.

1. See http://www.humanrights.gov.au.

2. Ms Broderick will be guest speaker at an LIV Serving Up Insights breakfast – “Paid parental leave: a crucial element in the workplace” to be held at the RACV Club on Wednesday, 10 September from 7.30-9am. For more information, see http://www.liv.asn.au/events/calendar/ServingUpInsights_LizBroderick_2008.pdf.

3. See http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au.

Comments




Leave message



 
 Security code
 
LIV Social
Footer