Amanda Heal is blind and works as a legislative drafter for the government. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
A small government agency has told three women - one blind, one pregnant and one who was injured at work - they are likely to lose their jobs.
The union that represents the trio is now investigating whether their employer, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, discriminated against them. It said the news, delivered just before Christmas, was ''terrible timing''.
However, the legal office said its decisions were in no way influenced by the staff's disability, pregnancy or history of injury.
The agency, which drafts and advises on legislation, wanted to shed six jobs by undertaking a ''spill and fill'' - a process in which employees are asked to reapply for their jobs - among 13 of its drafters.
One decided to take a redundancy package, two refused to take part in the process, and the office told the other three women late last week they were ''potentially excess''.
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One of them, Amanda Heal, is blind. She is also the office's Community and Public Sector Union delegate.
The 43-year-old said the second drafter chosen was due to give birth in February, while the third drafter's performance was impaired by a workplace injury.
Of her pregnant colleague, Ms Heal said: ''How is she supposed to apply for jobs when she's giving birth, then on maternity leave?''
She said she was deeply disappointed as she loved her job. ''I always wanted to be a legislative drafter. I just feel so sad.''
She did not accuse her employer of discrimination but was seeking advice from the union. ''It seems a strange coincidence that it was the three of us,'' she said.
The agency's head, first parliamentary counsel Peter Quiggin, defended the fairness of the decisions.
''[The office] followed a rigorous and transparent process, which involved written applications, written referee reports (which were supplied to applicants) and interviews for all applicants,'' he said in a statement.
''The selection committee was made up of highly experienced staff with a mix of experience in instrument drafting and bill [drafting], with a mix of male and female members.''
Most federal government workplaces are trying to shed staff as a result of budget cuts.
The Community and Public Sector Union said perceptions of discrimination during redundancies elsewhere in the bureaucracy had been thankfully rare so far.
Deputy president Alistair Waters said: ''We are concerned and hope this is a one-off incident and not the beginning of a trend across the public service as this government's austerity drive bites.
''However, we are investigating the circumstances to see if there are any grounds for discrimination. To have three women - two of whom have disabilities and one of whom is pregnant - all lose their jobs in one day seems more than a coincidence.
''At the very least, this is terrible timing coming, as it does, just before Christmas and this is not the way to treat your workforce.
''We expect more from the public service, which should be showing leadership when it comes to diversity and equality in the workplace.''