Let me start with a little story. When my first daughter started university, she took a part-time job at a store selling children’s clothes. The store was located very close to the university. All the other workers had young children.
In what looked the ideal job, she was forever being called into to cover Jane whose son Tom was not well or Julie whose daughter Sophie needed to taken to netball practice. There was never any question that this arrangement might not suit her because the needs of the workers with young children were paramount.
When she started professional employment, the same thing happened. She was the one who had to wait back until the relevant email came in and she could reply, with the advice of others who had also been required to stay back. The women workers with young children had to get away on time, you see.
The point is that there is no free lunch when it comes to very many work situations – what is flexible for some is burdensome for others. And we should not kid ourselves that it can be otherwise.
And now comes the deficient survey of the prevalence of discrimination in relation to pregnancy, parental leave and return to work commissioned by the Human Rights Commission (yes, it is still going … groan). The standout problem of the survey (of some 2000 mothers with young children) is that there was no control group.
Take for example the finding that 18 per cent of respondents claimed to have been sacked. But, hang on, workers are sacked all the time. It may be the case that the rate of sacking of other workers was actually higher.
And then there is the problem that if you invite respondents to whinge, they will. Not fully appreciated at work? Haven’t received the pay rise you deserve? Been denied professional development opportunities? Supervisor made sneering and unwelcome comments? Come on down, Cats, you too can have a whinge.
Again, without a control group, the findings of the HRC survey – paid for us mugs, the taxpayers – are valueless. About the only conclusion I can draw from the very superficial report – with expensive graphic design, of course – is that young mothers are very good at complaining.
(By the way, the findings about the fathers are complete tosh – an unrepresentative and tiny sample.)
Recall that of the 150,000 odd mothers who return to work each year after having a child, only some 150 (or 0.1 per cent) actually make a formal complaint about being discriminated (which actually is legally defined) at work. That’s what I call real data.
Here is a snippet about the report:
Almost one in five working mums lost their job before or after having a baby and more than a quarter of fathers are discriminated against for taking parental leave, a report has found.
Half of Australia’s working mothers report discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or when returning to work, according to an Australian Human Rights Commission report.
The commission’s report, Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review, found 18 per cent of pregnant workers say they have been sacked, threatened with sacking or didn’t have their contract renewed, either during their pregnancy, when requesting or taking parental leave, or when they returned to work.
Sex Discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said women had their salaries cut and missed out on training, professional development and promotional opportunities.
“The most common types of discrimination . . . included negative comments about breastfeeding or working part-time or flexibly and being denied requests to work flexibly,” Ms Broderick said on Monday.
The vast majority of mothers who copped discrimination (84 per cent) said it had a negative impact on them. The report also found fathers were discriminated against, with more than one quarter (27 per cent) of the father and partner respondents saying this occurred during parental leave or when they returned to work.
Discrimination was most commonly reported upon the mother returning to work, followed by when requesting or on parental leave. However, a quarter of those discriminated against said it happened during their pregnancy.