Why there are fears a campaign for menstrual leave could be derailed


Key Points
  • Australian unions are launching a campaign for paid menstrual and menopausal leave.
  • The proposed campaign has been met with mixed reactions from the public.
  • Union representatives say the pushback demonstrates a “lack of empathy” and current policies don’t meet women’s needs.
Australian unions are pushing to introduce protections in the Fair Work Act for paid menstrual and menopause leave, but campaigners are already experiencing pushback which they say could derail their campaign.
The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), United Workers’ Union (UWU), Transport Workers’ Union, Rail, Tram and Bus Union, and the Australian Workers’ Manufacturing Union — with the support of workplace law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers — are planning a campaign to introduce menstrual and menopausal leave, saying entitlements should be modernised to reflect the specific health experiences of women.
Stacey Schinnerl, Queensland Branch Secretary of the AWU, said it was disappointing that the proposed campaign had been met with mixed reactions by some women and men.
“There is a lot of pushback on this particular issue,” she said.

“It’s a difficult conversation, and quite often men don’t like engaging in it. We need to move away from that and open dialogue up.

Ms Schinnerl said it was important for both men and women to support those who struggle with severe menstrual and menopausal symptoms.
“I’ve been shocked that there is a real lack of empathy and support from some women as well,” she said.

“We should always be striving to make things better, and if we have an opportunity to engage in some dialogue that might lead to an outcome that makes things a bit easier for the generations that follow us, we’d be silly not to do that.”

Why are unions pushing for menstrual and menopause leave?

Many Australian women regularly struggle with pain and discomfort due to menstruation or menopause.
Symptoms can include heavy bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, migraines, and conditions such as or endometriosis.
More than 830,000 people suffer from endometriosis at some point in their life, according to .
The needs of women in the workplace are often not adequately met, said Linda Revil, a coordinator at the UWU.
“It’s time our workplace legislation was redrafted to finally and properly acknowledge that half the population are women,” she said.
“Menstrual and menopausal leave are crucial for working women’s rights, which too often go unnoticed.”
The exact proposal has not yet been specified, but unions said it could include an additional 10 to 12 days of leave per year for full-time employees.

Some organisations say leave policies should go further.

Lauren Anthes, CEO at Women’s Health Matters, believes policies should include other areas of reproductive health such as fertility treatment, miscarriage and abortion.
“We think it needs to be more than just leave that covers menstruation and menopause. It really should look to normalise reproductive health broadly,” she said.
“We think good reproductive health policies promote gender equality. They’re giving social and economic value to invisible gendered demands on reproduction and reproductive health.”
Ms Anthes said many areas of reproductive health disproportionately impact women.
“For things like fertility, whether it’s preservation (freezing eggs) or IVF, what people often don’t realise is the amount of time it takes to actually make that happen,” she said.
“For women in particular, they often have to take a lot of additional time off work … we often see people excluding themselves or taking themselves out of the workforce.”
A number of countries offer menstrual or menopause leave entitlements, including , Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, China, and Taiwan.

Are there concerns over the proposal?

Health policies should be examined across a variety of medical conditions, rather than focus on menstruation and menopause, according to Dr Susan Davis, a professor and head of the women’s research program at Monash University.
“I think all people need an appropriate allowance for their health conditions to be treated and overcome, and there’s no logic if a woman has monthly menstrual migraines that it’s expected she has them for the next 30 years of her working life. What you would hope is that they get treated,” she said.

“I think people need adequate healthcare leave. There are people who suffer a whole array of conditions that need leave … I believe in equitable healthcare leave; I’m not convinced it has to be tied to the menopause or menstruation.”

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