This week, the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), the United Workers’ Union (UWU), the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Australian Workers’ Manufacturing Union (AMWU) began surveying their members ahead of a national campaign to introduce menstrual and menopausal leave.
AWU Queensland State Secretary Stacey Schinnerl said leave entitlements needed to be modernised to reflect the specific health experiences of women.
“Some women suffer throughout their entire working life. From the age they begin menstruating, to pregnancy – complications can arise in conceiving, carrying and post-natal issues, then peri-menopause symptoms arrive, followed by menopause,” Ms Schinnerl said.
“With this in mind, 10 days personal leave per year, and the current flexibility arrangements under the Fair Work Act (FWA) are insufficient in recognising the health concerns women face, in contrast to men – who receive the same entitlements but experience none of those health hurdles.”
The TWU’s Lana Goodman-Tomsett said many women are forced to hide period pain from their employers or take pain killers to mask symptoms and continue working.
“It’s clear that the world of work as we know it was not established for women to be equal contributors. In 2022 many women are forced to suffer in silence and just get on with it, compromising their own health and wellbeing just to participate in the workforce, especially in male-dominated industries” Ms Goodman-Tomsett said.
“Women hide their period pain and say they’re sick and don’t extrapolate any further when suffering. Many are afraid to share a diagnosis, or discuss symptoms, including ongoing pain for fear of bosses thinking they will be sick every month.
“Some are even forced to take hard pain killers rather than ask for concessions like flexible work arrangements. The issue is particularly acute in blue collar jobs, like the transport industry, where women know menstrual issues aren’t even on the radar of their employer”.
Linda Revill, National Coordinator Property Services with United Workers Union, said workplace legislation was not fit for purpose.
“It’s time our workplace legislation was redrafted to finally and properly acknowledge that half the population are women. Menstrual and menopausal leave are crucial for working women’s rights, which too often go unnoticed.
“We must also have a discussion about how proper rights to leave for women apply across the board and do not leave out those trapped in insecure and casual work,” she said.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyer Jessica Heron said existing leave provisions under the Fair Work Act are insufficient as they did not allow women to take personal leave for menstrual-related pain.
“The most effective way of combating this unfairness is to create a uniform legislative standard allowing for additional leave days under the Fair Work Act. Women should be given at least 12 extra days leave a year, or one day per month,” Ms Heron said.
Ms Heron says this additional leave is a crucial step to addressing gender equality in Australian workplaces.
“Women usually bear the brunt of the family responsibilities, often working flexible hours or taking carer’s leave to accommodate day care or school hours, or sick kids. They shouldn’t have to deplete their personal leave further if they regularly experience debilitating period or menopause symptoms, as many women do,” Ms Heron said.
Menstrual and menopause leave is funded by the Spanish Government for up to five days a month. Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, China and Taiwan also have menstrual leave entitlements.
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