Small businesses run the risk of losing highly skilled employees to large corporations if they fail to adopt maternity leave policies and eradicate pregnancy discrimination, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Susan Halliday warned today.

Ms Halliday was speaking at the launch of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissionâ019s Workplace Pregnancy Guidelines, which provides practical advice for unions, employees, employers, and employer organisations on the management of pregnancy in the workplace.

HREOC research showed that many women waited to get better jobs before they decided to have children. This was creating a gap in best-practice human resources between large and small companies, because larger companies generally had more progressive maternity leave provisions.

‘Instead of automatically reacting negatively to the idea of paid maternity leave, small businesses should take the time to consider and understand what it actually means and that good measures can be implemented at minimal cost with the result of staff retention and continuity,’ Ms Halliday said.

In August 1999, HREOC recommended to the Federal Government that 11 changes be made to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984; only three of those changes were adopted. One of the most significant to be rejected was the recommendation that ongoing research be conducted into systems and economic models used internationally for maternity leave.

‘A review of international cases has shown hundreds of examples of good maternity leave policies. Some countries have publicly funded schemes,’ Ms Halliday said.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said at the launch that 27 per cent of the workforce was employed as casuals and that women made up over half of the casual workforce. Ms Burrow said the ACTUâ019s campaign to achieve parental leave for casuals would offer much-needed security for those workers.

‘The ACTU is only seeking unpaid maternity leave for Australia’s casual workforce,’ she said. ‘The numerous examples of government and employer support for maternity leave internationally has rendered Australia’s response shameful.’
Ms Burrow also paid tribute to Ms Halliday’s achievements as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

‘Susan Halliday has been a champion for working women. It is sad that her term as Commissioner is coming to an end. If Prime Minister Howard had the interests of working women at heart, she would be remaining in this job.’