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Unions want breastfeeding rights enshrined in Taxation Office agreement

Date

Noel Towell

Women at the Australian Taxation Office say they are afraid to assert their lactation rights.

Women at the Australian Taxation Office say they are afraid to assert their lactation rights.

The Australian Taxation Office is under pressure to enshrine breastfeeding rights for new mothers into its workplace agreement amid internal criticism that it is failing to provide a lactation-friendly workplace.

Women at the agency say they are afraid to assert their lactation rights as bosses make life difficult for women who return to the workforce while their babies are still breastfed.

With women forced to express in toilets and even in their cars outside ATO workplaces, one female tax official has asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate conditions for nursing mothers at the Tax Office.

Guidelines in place at the Tax Office require mothers to get their boss' permission for lactation breaks and some respondents to an internal bulletin board on the issue were scathing of their managers' attitudes.

One woman said she was afraid to approach her manager because she "didn't want to make too much of a fuss as he had already made clear he felt a part-time employee was useless".

Another tax official said she was forced to express in her car in the office car park while another said her husband would turn up at with the baby at feeding time and park in a loading zone while the mother suckled her child in the car.

Although there were some positive reports about managers' attitudes, nearly all the women who responded to the bulletin board said their boss' approach had an enormous influence on their choices.

"I did struggle as I didn't know about the breaks and what alternatives was available to me at the time," one public servant wrote. "So I stopped breastfeeding earlier than expected due to this difficulty."

Another tax bureaucrat wrote of her manager's "contempt" for the process.

"My team leader seemed to have contempt for the whole process and had already made my pregnancy difficult so I didn't push it," she wrote.

Yet another official wrote that she felt forced to wean her son earlier than she had wanted because of the stress of being a nursing mother at the ATO.

"I would often [be] in tears as I had to use the disabled toilet if the first aid room wasn't available and it was always in my time," she wrote.

"Due to the stress with the first time, my son weaned early and [it] was heartbreaking for me."

Now unions want clearly defined lactation rights embedded in the ATO's new workplace agreement, with departmental bosses yet to respond to the claim, 

According to the anonymous complaint to the Human Rights Commission, women are being forced to express before or after work or forced by managers to lactate in the office toilets.

"Some [managers] have even suggested if a mother cannot 'properly' return to work, then they should stay home," the complainant wrote.

An ATO spokeswoman refused to answer questions.

"We will be discussing a range of employment conditions as part of the new enterprise agreement process but, as part of our commitment to good faith bargaining, we will not be publicly commenting on the negotiations prior to bargaining discussions," she said.

100 comments

  • Are you kidding, I thought we were well past this type of thinking. This should not be an issue in 2014. Sounds to me like they need a huge cultural shift to at least catch up to the 1980s. I cannot understand why anybody would expect a mum to express in the toilet or outside. Just treat them with some common decency please.

    Commenter
    Irene
    Date and time
    August 13, 2014, 8:23AM
    • I read your comment, and thought 'hallelujah', people DO actually 'get' that this is 2014.

      Then I read the following three comments.

      Commenter
      cuts both ways
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 10:11AM
    • Yes, some of the comments below really beggar belief. I'm surprised by how ignorant people are. For what it's worth, breastfeeding women typically cannot control the timing of their need to lactate so it just happens outside work hours, so it's not a 'choice' any more than you going to the toilet during work hours is a choice. And no, lactating for one or more short periods each day is not mutually exclusive with performing their work duties - again, if you head out for a coffee or toilet break during the day, that doesn't render you totally unproductive for the rest of the day, does it? As for the people who seem to think that women should simply choose not to breastfeed or stay at home until they're finished, nice way to wedge women between the rabid 'breast is best' campaigners and the need to work to support their families financially.

      Commenter
      meh
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 11:37AM
    • +1 I'm so shocked by so many of the following comments - many from those who clearly have never breastfed and never will - but are obviously not in the least concerned about ensuring there is a next generation who has any interest in taking care of them. When did we start hating mothers so much? When did motherhood become about slacking off?

      Commenter
      WorkingMum
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 12:03PM
    • I read on to see what you were talking about. Now I wish I hadn't.

      Commenter
      Pink Peril
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 12:50PM
    • Atrocious comments below, glad yours was first off the rank.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 5:10PM
    • The comments below are absolutely shocking and honestly I pity those of you who can't get your head around this.

      Commenter
      A
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 6:16PM
  • Having children is a lifestyle choice and so is the way the parents wish to nourish their child.

    The Australian Public Service already provides sufficient facilities and policies to support mothers who are lactating return to the workplace. Perhaps revised policies and clearly defined guidelines with mandotory awareness training for those with lactating employees would be sufficient.

    Given the bargaining framework, what productivity gains are these lactating mothers prepared to offer up in order to bargain in goodfaith to support their claims for paid lactation breaks and increased facilities to do so?

    Commenter
    Lifestyle Choice
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    August 13, 2014, 8:44AM
    • Having kids is a "lifestyle choice", is it? So who's going to work in the nursing home that Lifestyle Choice goes into in a few decades? Or maybe care will all be provided by robots by that stage. People who have children are doing society a favour and, even in capitalist terms, it makes sense for society to defray some of the cost so as to reduce the financial disincentive for individuals to do so.

      And the anecdotes set out above indicate that the APS definitely does NOT provide "sufficient facilities and policies to support mothers who are lactating return to the workplace". Whatever generalities might be on paper in policy documents are certainly not being interpreted in an acceptable way by some of the bosses. Getting it fixed in an Enterprise Agreement is therefore just sound common sense.

      Finally, the demand for "productivity trade-offs" is completely unjustifiable. Not only will any cost be miniscule, since what is required is fundamentally a change in management behaviour, but it would be greatly outweighed by the higher productivity of staff who are not having their morale sapped by intolerant and short-sighted management actions.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 9:54AM
    • Insert cigarette and coffee as well. Neither are productive, and waste as much time.

      Commenter
      Anna
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 10:55AM

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