It’s not just the State Award that is committed to making councils provide family friendly and flexible work

The 2014 State Award provides two significant improvements for working parents that coincide with publication by the Australian Human Rights Commission of their Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review.

On a weekly basis we provide advice to members dealing with councils reluctant to embrace the flexibility provided in the Award for parents returning to work - particularly mothers. It seems extraordinary that we would need to do so but two improvements in the 2014 Award will make it harder for councils to ignore their obligations.

First, the 2010 Award acknowledged the intention of the parties to the Award to “ensure flexibility for work and family responsibilities” but at many councils this didn’t happen. The 2014 Award has taken this commitment further with the addition of two simple words, with the Award now requiring that they facilitate these arrangements as well. The Award now commits the parties to the Award to “ensure and facilitate the flexibility for work and family responsibilities”, so unsympathetic, unsupportive or even hostile Councils really will have to do something.

Second, clause 22 Flexibility for Work and Family Responsibilities now provides this new wording:

“In recognition of the commitment to provide flexibility for work and family responsibilities and the need to retain skills and experience within the industry, employers are encouraged to develop and promote flexible work and leave arrangements to enable their employees to better manage their work and family responsibilities”.

We are already familiar with snide observations from supervisors and managers about accommodating what they see to be unrealistic or unreasonable requests; negativity from the same managers or supervisors when the Council’s own policy document encourages “your positive attitude towards flexible work arrangements is essential”; the reliance on obsolete policies which pre-date the Fair Work Act and its absolute requirements to respond positively to flexible working arrangements; dawdling and ignoring reasonable timeframes; expecting child care arrangements are easily found and almost instantly changed; smug reliance on assertions that the flexible working hours policy doesn’t operate concurrently with the working from home policy (even though neither policy specifies this); ignorant assertions that flexible arrangements are not available for “long-term dependent care” when the policy doesn’t mention childcare or parental responsibilities but focuses only on caring for the ill or injured - and where the Fair Work Act and the Award require otherwise; responding to a request by proposing a 50% reduction in working hours instead, with the loss of the leaseback car; arguing that working from home arrangements are not there to accommodate childcare responsibilities even though other employees at work are doing precisely that; and demanding special requirements for working parents to keep appropriate credits in their flexitime, when that doesn’t apply to people who aren’t parents; and, part-time working arrangements that require a capacity, without reasonable notice, to be available for weekend work.

And all of this while the Council boasts its commitment to doing the right thing. A glossy booklet with the General Manager smiling with the caption “A great place to work …” that promises flexibility in attracting and retaining quality staff and flexible work environments that help all staff to balance their work, family and other responsibilities, but which are clearly more honoured in their breach than their observation. And so far, we’re only talking about Penrith.

We will tell you more about Penrith in subsequent issues as we move them into 2014.

While Australia falls well below the arrangements for employing women with young children in OECD countries, less attention has been paid to making employers provide more flexible arrangements for working parents. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report found that much needs to be done to make workplaces more welcoming for mothers and fathers returning from parental leave, and to prevent discrimination.

The Report found that 49% of mothers had experienced discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave and their return to work, 32% suffered discrimination requesting or taking parental leave and 34% in dealing with their family responsibilities. These figures seem consistent with our experience.

In addition to the protections available in the State Award, progressive National Employment Standards are incorporated in clause 21F Parental Leave (General) and 21G Requests for Flexible Working Arrangements. Some councils still don’t understand this.

The Report also found amongst employers “confusion and uncertainty about their legal obligations, and about employee rights”. We are always happy to help the confused and the uncertain.

If you are having issues of discrimination at work because of your family responsibilities, let us know.

And if you are making a request for flexible working arrangements, here is a link to your rights through the State Award and the Fair Work Act 2009.

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