Women who experience miscarriage will soon be entitled to two days of paid bereavement leave, after landmark legislation was put to the federal parliament on Thursday.
Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash introduced an amendment to the Fair Work Act to the Senate on Thursday, in an effort to legislate the policy change. The paid bereavement leave will be accessible to all employees covered under the Fair Work Act, and includes access to leave for the partner of a woman who has had a miscarriage.
It follows a nation-leading policy announcement from the NSW government on Tuesday, that will see the state provide employees in the NSW public sector with five days’ paid bereavement leave if they suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Samantha Payne, chief executive of leading miscarriage and pregnancy loss charity The Pink Elephants Support Network, welcomed the move from the federal government, and says the legislation will give women and their partners the space to grieve.
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“We’re feeling incredibly joyful and grateful today. What this means for our community is validation, that miscarriage matters, and that we are entitled to grieve the loss of their babies,” Payne told Women’s Agenda.
“Because without this, what’s happening is that women and their partners are being minimised by their experience of loss, and not grieving and not accessing support. We then end up with really poor mental health outcomes like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The Pink Elephants Support Network has been actively lobbying the federal government to amend the Fair Work Act for three years, seeking to provide Australian workers with access to the paid leave they deserve after a loss of pregnancy. Payne said the amendment is a huge step forward and is just the beginning of a wider cultural shift.
“As a tiny, grassroots organisation, it’s a win. We’ve brought miscarriage out of the shadows, into the spotlight. This will open up the door for so many more conversations around how we better, as a nation, support women and their partners, whose babies die to miscarriage.”
Every day in Australia, 282 women experience a miscarriage, and six babies are stillborn.
Payne says there is no doubt the legislation will help remove the stigma and silence surrounding miscarriage in workplaces, and it will also mean employers will offer better support.
“We want to normalise miscarriage for the world to see. Part of that is policy change, but what policy change does, is it creates cultural change. It brings miscarriage onto the agenda as something that workplaces need to step up on and offer better support,” she said.
The government introduce the miscarriage leave changes as part of its Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill.
It comes after some corporates have already made changes to their workplace policies in recent years, offering greater support to employees who experience pregnancy loss. PricewaterhouseCoopers, Minter Ellison, QBE, and Zip are some of the companies that have signed on to Pink Elephants’ Fertility in the Workplace program, aimed at encouraging the private sector to introduce their own bereavement leave. Payne said there has been a huge uptake of the program this year.
“Because they know, that for too long, miscarriage has been minimised. People return to work and they don’t talk about it; they suffer in silence,” Payne says.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.