Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Inquiry into parental leave discrimination: fairer workplace practices to benefit families and the economy

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP

    The Hon Bill Shorten MP
    Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

The Gillard Government has asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct an inquiry into workplace discrimination against employees taking parental leave when they are pregnant or caring for a baby.

“There is significant anecdotal evidence that women in particular are being demoted, sacked, or having their role or hours unfavourably ‘re-structured’ while on parental leave or on their return from leave. The inquiry will measure the prevalence of this discrimination and help ensure parents, particularly mothers, are treated fairly at work,” said Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

“The Gillard Government’s first national Paid Parental Leave scheme has already helped more than 300,000 families,” said Ms Macklin.

“Before our scheme, only about half of Australia’s working women had access to some form of paid leave when they had a baby, that number is now 95 per cent.

“We know how important it is for new mums and dads to spend time with their newborn babies, and we need to make sure that women who take this critical time off don’t get left behind in their careers, or treated unfairly at work. Not only is this unacceptable and unproductive, it is unlawful.”

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick will oversee a national survey to more accurately assess the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination relating to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave.

The inquiry will convene a series of roundtable forums with industry and employer groups, unions, workers and other relevant organisations before preparing recommendations to reduce discrimination.

“Labor has introduced new entitlements to paid and unpaid parental leave. The review will recommend ways to ensure employers understand and meet their obligations and parents are given every opportunity to return to the workforce in jobs commensurate with their experience and skills,” said Mr Shorten.

“Job and financial security are important to all workers, but particularly for women and men who are experiencing a major life change with the birth of a child.”

The inquiry builds on substantial reforms introduced by the Labor Government to give women greater opportunity to take their place in the modern workforce and allow men to participate more actively in parenting and family life.

Labor has delivered:

  • Australia’s first universal paid parental leave scheme, which treats women equitably and allows employers to ‘top up’ to attract and retain skilled female employees
  • the introduction of Dad and Partner Pay on 1 January this year which provides eligible working dads or partners, including adoptive parents and same sex partners, two weeks’ pay at the rate of the National Minimum Wage
  • the right to request an additional 12 months’ unpaid parental leave or for both parents to take separate periods of up to 12 months’ unpaid parental leave
  • protection in the Fair Work Act against discrimination at work, including discrimination due to pregnancy, marital status, caring or family responsibilities
  • a strong safety net for all employees in the Fair Work Act to paid and unpaid leave like carer’s leave
  • the right to request flexible work arrangements to assist with caring for children, ageing family members or a family member with disability – a juggle which still falls mainly to women
  • increase in the child care rebate from 30 to 50 per cent of out of pocket costs up to $7,500 a child each year
  • a new workplace gender equality act and agency to help tackle the pay gap between women and men in Australia by driving cultural change necessary to achieve gender equality in the workplace
  • a boost to the superannuation accounts of around 2.2 million Australian women working low paid or part time jobs by ensuring they don’t pay tax on their superannuation contributions
  • measures to improve equal pay for women, including the historic decision to give workers in the social and community services sector equal pay and the creation of an Equal Pay Unit within the Fair Work Commission

Furthermore, there is legislation currently before the Parliament to:

  • increase concurrent unpaid parental leave for both parents from 3-8 weeks at the time a child is born and improved flexibility about when the leave can be taken
  • provide an express right to request flexible work arrangements for parents returning from parental leave and for a range of employees including those with caring responsibilities
  • improve protections for pregnant employees including the right for all workers to transfer to a safe job and improved special maternity leave arrangements
  • requirements for employers to consult on the impacts of changes to rosters on family life

These reforms were all introduced by Labor after years of inaction by the Howard Government, with former Howard Government minister Tony Abbott infamously declaring paid parental leave would be introducedover this Government’s dead body’ and supporting WorkChoices which drastically cut women’s pay and job security, and widened the gender pay gap for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Now we see Mr Abbott, a first-class opportunist, dangling an unaffordable, gold-plated parental leave scheme in front of voters, already ducking and weaving about if and when he will deliver it should he win government. He will not deliver and he is not to be trusted,” said Mr Dreyfus.

The Gillard Government remains thoroughly committed to removing workplace barriers to ensure all Australians have access to a safe and fair workplace.

Media contact: Giulia Baggio (Mr Dreyfus) 0400 918 776

Carla De Campo (Ms Macklin) 0408 567 720

Kimberley Gardiner (Mr Shorten) 0427 138 106

Terms of Reference

Research project by the Australian Human Rights Commission: Prevalence of experiences of discrimination relating to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, on behalf of the Commission, will conduct research to identify the prevalence of discrimination in relation to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave as follows:

  1. A national online prevalence survey to assess the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination relating to pregnancy at work and return to work after parental leave. Selected phone interviews may be conducted with target groups unable to access the online survey.
  2. The Commission will provide an interim report on the survey headline data.
  3. The Commission will then convene a series of roundtables and consultations nationally and in regional areas, including with government, industry and employer groups, unions, workers, women’s groups, relevant community and health organisations, and affected women not otherwise represented, to consider the prevalence data and its implications.
  4. Based on the above, the Commission will prepare a research report, including recommendations, which identifies the prevalence of discrimination, adequacy of existing laws, policies procedures and practices, best practice approaches for addressing this, and proposed areas of focus for future activities to address any major matters of concern arising.

The Commission will seek to obtain data on the full range of family circumstances, including single parent or separating households, to determine the extent to which the impact of any discrimination may be exacerbated by family circumstances.

In conducting the research, the Commission will consider recent developments in the area (including the introduction and any initial evaluation of the paid parental leave scheme) as well as previous reports (such as the Commission’s National Inquiry into Pregnancy and Work, Pregnant and productive: It’s a right not a privilege to work while pregnant (1998)).


Project Actions


Establishment of project

June 2013

Establishment of advisory group

July 2013

National online prevalence survey commences

August 2013

Interim report on survey headline data

October 2013

Roundtables/ consultations

October 2013 – January 2014

Final report (on survey and roundtables/consultations findings and recommendations)

May 2014

For more information go to the Human Rights Website