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AWU leads push for paid menstrual, menopausal leave

November 23, 2022

The Australian Workers’ Union is leading the charge in a campaign for paid menstrual and menopause leave, with current leave entitlements falling way short of many women’s health experiences.

The unions – the AWU, the Transport Workers Union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and the United Workers Union – in partnership with Maurice Blackburn, say it’s high time workplace legislation properly acknowledged that half the population are women, and that menstrual and menopausal leave are crucial for their working rights.

They say women hide period pain, say they’re sick and don’t extrapolate any further when suffering. Women are often afraid to share a diagnosis or talk about it, for fear of their bosses’ reactions.

Some women are even forced to take hard pain killers rather than ask for concessions such as flexible work arrangements, with the problem particularly acute in blue-collar jobs, where women know menstrual issues aren’t on their employer’s radar.

AWU Queensland Branch Secretary Stacey Schinnerl said leave entitlements must be modernised to reflect the women’s specific health experiences.

“Some women suffer throughout their entire working lives,” Ms Schinnerl said. “From the age they begin menstruating, to pregnancy, complications can arise in conceiving, carrying and post-natal issues, then peri-menopause symptoms arrive, followed by menopause.

“With this in mind, 10 days leave per year, and the current workplace flexibility arrangements, are insufficient in recognising the health concerns women face, in contrast to men, who receive the same entitlements but experience none of those health hurdles.”

Menstrual and menopause leave was approved in Spain this year, with women able to access at least three days a month. Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, China and Taiwan also have entitlements.

While menstrual and menopause leave has been achieved in some enterprise agreements, the AWU and the other unions are developing a model clause to be inserted into enterprise agreements.

They also hope to have the leave enshrined in the Fair Work Act as a uniform entitlement, similar to paid family and domestic violence leave.

“We need to look at this from a broader health issue as well,” Ms Schinnerl added.

“The quicker women deplete their current sick leave quota, the more likely women will feel compelled to attend the workplace when suffering other illnesses.”

“It’s in no one’s interest to continue to come into work sick, just because they’ve used their sick days due to unavoidable agony.”

Ms Schinnerl says it’s an opportunity to open an important line of dialogue, but accepts it won’t be easy. “It’s something that is inherently a guarded and difficult conversation for men to engage in,” she said.

“But, moreover, we are going to have to deal with the battle around men saying ‘well, what do I get?’.

“What men get is an uninterrupted existence, while women can get a very traumatic and painful experience every single month for every single year of their reproductive lives.

“If women could choose, we would not experience this. We would like to opt out but that’s not our reality.”

The AWU will now begin surveying members, inviting women to share their experiences with managing their reproductive health while working.

“It’s important to bring the stigma out of it, bring the heat out of it, and talk about it as a public health issue, which it is.”

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