It's hard to argue against the case for the proposed menstrual and menopause leave put forward to be included in the fair Fair Work Act. The inclusion of the policy would be a move towards a more modernised and tailored approach for women who suffer from 'painful' periods and menopause (in other words, all women).
Why is this being proposed?
Every woman (and those assigned female at birth) or knows one, understands that the experience of menstruating can be at best a hindrance, is mostly a nuisance and at worst, absolutely hellish. This is pretty much agreed upon across the board, with over 90 per cent of women under 25 reporting regular period pain. On top of this, 1 in 9 women suffer from endometriosis which can severely intensify period pain. Many women have to reduce their work hours to manage symptoms.
When it comes to menopause, things don't appear to get any easier. A survey by Circle and Victorian Women's Trust found that 83 per cent of respondents said that their work was negatively affected by their menopausal symptoms. Further, 45 per cent of respondents wanted to retire or take a break when those symptoms became severe but didn't due to financial reasons.
Who is behind the push for menstrual and menopause entitlements?
A group of Australia's biggest unions have banded together and are backed by a leading workplace law firm Maurice Blackburn to address the issues caused by menstruation and menopause in the workplace. The unions have been surveying their members to find which entitlements would best serve their members. The Unions include:
- Australian Workers’ Union (AWU)
- United Workers’ Union (UWU)
- Transport Workers' Union (TWU)
- Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU)
- Australian Workers’ Manufacturing Union (AMWU)
How would the policy work?
The proposed policy would give the option to employees experiencing painful periods or menopausal symptoms one day off per month or 12 days off per year.
Lawyer, Jessical Herron who is working with the firm supporting the unions in their mission told ABC, "If we can fit the law reform into one neat amendment to the Fair Work Act then great."
"Otherwise we will have to look at other options such as applying for variation of industry-wide awards," she said.
Is there anything like this offered in Australia?
There are some companies that are already offering a form of menstrual leave to their employees. Future Super and ModiBodi offer menstrual policies to their employees, not just leave. These policies are based on guidelines set out by the Victorian Women's Trust.
What does the policy look like?
"The policy is designed to be flexible depending on the employee's needs, providing for the following options:
- The possibility of working from home*,
- The opportunity to stay in the workplace under circumstances which encourage the comfort of the employee E.g. resting in a quiet area; or
- The possibility of taking a day’s paid leave.
In the case of paid leave, employees are entitled to a maximum of 12 paid days per calendar year (pro-rata, non-cumulative) in the event of inability to perform work duties because of menstruation and menopause, and their associated symptoms. A medical certificate is not required."
Which countries already have menstrual leave?
The Soviet Union enacted laws around menstrual leave dating back to the 1920s. This was so women could "fulfil their reproductive and maternal functions," according to a study published in the Europe-Asia Studies journal.
In an announcement in May, the Spanish government laid out plans to legislate a menstrual and menopause leave policy. Their approach would go even further than Australia's offering people with painful periods three days of leave per month. They would require a doctor's certificate, unlike Australia's proposal.
Japan also has their version of menstrual leave seirikyuuka, which was introduced in 1974. Women demanded these rights as early as 1928 women transport workers fought for better conditions as their sanitary facilities were so inadequate. These days, the policy is rarely used with less than 10 per cent of women taking advantage of the policy.
Indonesia has a similar policy, introduced in 1948 which is not upheld constantly and in some cases, even results in workplace harassment. As an example, women have been asked to remove their underwear to prove they are menstruating.
There is some concern that a policy like this would further the stigmatisation of women and lead to further workplace discrimination and harassment as some still consider menstruation to be shameful. As has been the case in Japan and Indonesia.
In Australia, Ms Herron "On the question of how men will benefit from this? Seeking additional entitlements for women to be able to not just survive in the workplace, but thrive, will no doubt have a positive impact on the lives of men, in both the broader socioeconomic sense but also in their own homes too."