Bill's Transcripts

ABC Northern Tasmania with Hilary Burden

Subjects: Women in the workplace, Fair Work Act review  

 JOURNALIST:            Now, reports today that you don’t expect to hear in the twenty-first century, that pregnant women and mums are being forced out of their jobs and being told that they can’t apply for promotions.  Experts are claiming that discrimination based on pregnancy and caring for children is now as big a problem in the workplace as sexual harassment.  Well, Bill Shorten is Federal Employment and Workplace Minister. 

 Are you aware of these complaints from mums and mums-to-be?

 BILL SHORTEN:        I am. It’s remarkable. This is 2012, not 1912. I suppose part of it is that there’s encouragement under the Federal Labor Government for women to work more and work part-time and work flexibly, but it seems that the message isn’t getting through to some dead beat employers who don’t seem to appreciate the value of having either pregnant mums working for you or people who’ve just had babies coming back to work.

 JOURNALIST:            It’s illegal.  Why isn’t the message getting through?

 BILL SHORTEN:        Do you know, I just don’t know. Some people just don’t get it.  That’s why you do need strong regulation.  In Australian politics at the moment there’s a debate between the Labor side and the Conservative side, and the Conservative sides say, if you just deregulate the labour market, that’s okay, because we’re all pretty advanced, civilised human beings.  I actually think this debate about discrimination against mums shows that you still need a strong safety net to ensure people don’t get discriminated against. 

 JOURNALIST:            What can Fair Work Australia do about it, and how quickly can they act?

 BILL SHORTEN:        Well, first of all, the practices which were reported in The Mercury today or the Herald Sun front page - they’re just illegal.  So the first thing is if you think you’re being discriminated against, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.  Feel free to contact your member of Parliament, or indeed you could join a union and contact the union. 

 People should also realise that these matters will be treated confidentially in the first instance.  Quite often it’s just a matter of people knowing their rights, and then once they know their rights, they can negotiate with their employer and say, hey, this is wrong. 

 But we also need to do other things I think.  One of them is that we’ve made it easier for people to - for mums to take maternity leave.  Do you know one-hundred-and-forty-eight thousand mothers have used the new Federal Government’s funded maternity leave payments so that you can get some money while you’re off on leave and then return to work?  We’ve put in place new laws, and we’re currently considering the review of the Fair Work Act, and no doubt one of the issues will be, are we doing enough to make work places family friendly?

 JOURNALIST:            You talk about - more about the dead beat employer and not so much about the workplace.  Employers can’t actually tell women not to have babies, can they, so...

 BILL SHORTEN:        I wouldn’t - I wouldn’t say they should do that, and let me be clear, there’s a lot of employers doing the right thing, a lot of employers doing the right thing, but too many aren’t.  The point is that just because someone’s pregnant, doesn’t mean that they cease to be able to function as a human being, and also, at the other end, once baby’s been born and after a period of time, mum might want to come back to work part-time, and these people are assets in workplace. 

 In my experience employing part-time workers who are women and mums, they tend to get the same job done as the bloke, except more quickly, more efficiently, so they can balance every other - juggle every other ball they’ve got in there. 

JOURNALIST:            So anyone listening now, Bill Shorten, who is perhaps going to a new job, they’re thinking about having a baby in the next year or so - what questions should they be armed with of their employer?

 BILL SHORTEN:        Well, first of all, it’s not so much questions.  They should just acquaint themselves with their rights.  You can work up to when the doctor says it’s no longer safe to do so.  The employers can’t just stop you working. 

 Secondly, when you - your position has to be kept open for when you return for work.  You also, courtesy of the Government, can get paid maternity leave. 

 The reason why we do all of these things is because Australia is a small country, and we need all the people who want to work to be able to work, and as we are a growing - an ageing society, in future, the employers will do best to the ones who are the employees of choice.  People want cooperation and harmony at work, and if you can get a really good worker who happens to be lucky enough to be a mum or a impending mum-to-be, well, that’s your good luck to have a good worker on your books.

 JOURNALIST:            And what would be your message to the so-called dead beat employer who might be thinking about promoting a man over a woman who’s about to have a baby?

 BILL SHORTEN:        Just put your - how would you like someone else to treat your wife, your daughter, your sister or your mother, and if you wouldn’t want someone doing the wrong thing by your wife, your daughter, your sister or your mother, perhaps you shouldn’t treat someone else’s daughter, wife, sister or mother in any way you wouldn’t want your own family to be treated. 

 JOURNALIST:            And just finally, the Fair Work review - how quickly are we going to see some change on this?

 BILL SHORTEN:        Well, we’ve just received the report. The Government’s having - is considering it.  I’ll hopefully release it - the report, that is - towards the end of July. Then we would have consideration and consult stakeholders formally. Then the Government would give a response at some point, I suppose about a month after we’d release the report.