On Thursday 10 March 2022, Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project (RAP) will launch its report, A Policy for Equality: Painful Periods as a Workplace Issue. The Report shines a spotlight on the discriminatory and non-inclusive treatment of people who menstruate at work, and the social and economic advantages of changing the current approach.
The Report proposes reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and provides policy templates to be implemented by individual organisations and public authorities.
Currently, the Fair Work Act entitles people managing menstrual symptoms — ranging from mild to extreme cramps, pain, digestive issues, diagnosed and undiagnosed endometriosis, adenomyosis, and psychological impacts — to take personal/sick leave on the basis that their menstruation constitutes an ‘illness’ or ‘injury’.
One of the Report’s authors, Sophie Lloyd, says:
“The current approach to personal leave reinforces the misconception that menstruation and menopause symptoms are an illness or injury rather than a natural process. As a society, we need to do more to acknowledge the ways in which menstruation and menopause can impact workers.”
When writing the Report, RAP conducted a survey of almost 500 people who menstruate. It found that menstruation impacts 88% of people at work. Over 65% of these people have no access to viable leave options or flexible working arrangements. They are forced to take annual or unpaid leave, or remain at work in pain and unproductive. Many reported being too ashamed to address the issue with their manager.
In 2019, things started changing. The Federal Government removed GST from menstrual products. The Victorian Government dedicated $20.7 million to improving menstrual health and reducing associated stigma across public schools. In 2020, Victoria appointed Dr Niki Vincent as the inaugural Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner and businesses, such as the Victorian Women’s Trust and Future Super, introduced menstrual and menopause leave policies. Recently, the Health and Community Services Union requested Reproductive Health and Wellbeing Leave in enterprise agreement negotiations.
RAP believes it is only a matter of time until menstrual leave and appropriate flexible working arrangements are offered in Australian workplaces. All we need to do is recognise the legal, social, psychological and economic benefits that introducing such arrangements in the workplace can bring ‚— for both employees and employers. With many more people working from productively from home during the pandemic, it is important that this flexibility continues to be available for those who suffer from painful menstrual symptoms.
The report was written by RAP’s government accountability and equality team: Shannen Bethune, Sophie Lloyd, Abbey Dalton, Tim Cronin and Sophia McNamara as members of Liberty Victoria.
RAP is a committee of Liberty Victoria which brings together a community lawyers and activists on law reform projects to advance human rights in Australia. RAP works across a range of issues including criminal justice reform, refugee and asylum seeker rights, government accountability and equality.
The Report is available on the Liberty Victoria website.
For further information contact Shannen Bethune at email@example.com or phone 9670 6422
Thursday 10 March 2022
5:30pm to 6:30pm
Kate Marshall is the Assistant State Secretary of the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU), a Victorian union supporting over 10,000 members working in mental health, disability, and drug and alcohol services. Kate is also the National Junior Vice President of the Health Services Union. Recently, the HACSU launched its Reproductive Health and Wellbeing Leave campaign, one of the first menstrual-related leave campaigns in Australia’s history.
Gemma Cafarella is a Barrister who practices in public law, including discrimination and sexual harassment matters. Gemma is the Chair of Liberty Victoria’s Government Regulation and Equality Committee, and a Supervisor for RAP. Gemma also has endometriosis and adenomyosis.
Mary Crooks is the Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT), a research and advocacy organisation focused on equality for women, girls and gender diverse people. The VWT was one of Australia’s first employers to introduce paid menstrual leave and flexible working arrangements. It also advocates for the wider adoption of similar policies. Mary has overseen the research and publication of About Bloody Time: The menstrual revolution we have to have (2019) and Ourselves at Work: Creating positive menstrual culture in your workplace (2021).