The Fair Work Ombudsman is urging employers to be wary of workplace discrimination after supermarket giant Coles came under fire for transferring some pregnant staff to lower paid, less labour-intensive roles.
In 2009, Coles transferred a fresh produce manager at a NSW store to the role of service assistant on $67.40 a week less pay after she produced medical advice that imposed lifting restrictions.
The Fair Work Ombudsman said in a statement an employee could be shifted that way under a collective agreement covering Coles, made prior to the introduction of national employment standards.
But the Fair Work Act states that when a pregnant woman with at least 12 months’ service is transferred, there should be no change in pay and conditions.
Ombudsman executive director Michael Campbell says the same clause can be found in hundreds of other agreements.
“The Coles experience should serve as a reminder to other employers to check their own compliance,” he says.
“When we alerted Coles to the problem, the company promptly took steps to conduct an audit, undertake training and change the company policy.”
Coles has reimbursed an unknown number of other underpaid pregnant staff, with the company stating it always tries to treat workers in accordance with workplace laws and conditions.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, pregnant staff produced 74 complaints in 2009-10, making it the second most common cause of discrimination complaints.
Already in 2010-11, the watchdog has received 45 complaints about pregnancy discrimination.
“Some of the allegations are as bad as that employees have been made redundant or their employment conditions have been changed because of their pregnancy, which is deeply concerning,” the FWO says.
In February, Virgin Blue attracted negative attention when it was revealed that two staff were allegedly made redundant because they were pregnant or taking parental leave.
Despite Virgin Blue rejecting the allegations, both women are taking the airline to court, claiming their lives and careers were seriously disrupted by Virgin Blue’s behaviour.
A preliminary hearing will be held in Brisbane on March 23.