Australia’s leading anti-discrimination law firm Slater and Gordon is urging mothers to be aware of their legal rights, during World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7).
This year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action is aiming to highlight the struggles women face when trying to combine breastfeeding and work.
It is illegal to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding in Australia, as outlined in the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
Slater and Gordon Lawyer Vicky Antzoulatos said if a person is legally allowed to be in a certain place, they also have the right to breastfeed there.
“A mother’s right to breastfeed any time or place they need to is now well established and protected by federal law,” Ms Antzoulatos said.
“However the obligations on employers to facilitate breastfeeding are still unclear and many women are reluctant to make a fuss to exercise their rights.”
“Some mothers find themselves expressing in their cars for want of an appropriate and private space, while others find it difficult to juggle scheduled breaks.”
A national Australian Human Rights Commission survey found a fifth of mothers who experienced discrimination upon returning to work were dealing with issues related to breastfeeding.
Ms Antzoulatos said employers can face penalties or be ordered to pay compensation if they breach the relevant legislation.
“By simply identifying and outlining the options available to breastfeeding mothers, employers can remove all uncertainty and help create a more conscientious workplace.”
Despite past controversy, the legal rights of a mother to breastfeed in Australia extend to:
- All workplaces and offices, including during meetings;
- Pubs and clubs;
- Public transport and airports, including while boarding a plane (as long as safety is not compromised);
- State and federal parliament.
- Currently the Federal Senate, ACT Legislative Assembly and NSW Legislative Council are the only chambers of parliament in Australia to specifically exempt nursing infants from standing orders regulating strangers/visitors.
- In all other parliaments, the admittance of strangers/visitors is at the discretion of the Speaker or President.
- The Federal House of Representatives makes special allowances for breastfeeding members to vote by proxy in divisions if they cannot be present in the Chamber, but does not specifically exempt nursing infants from stranger/visitor regulations.
If you believe you have been discriminated against, either directly or indirectly, on the grounds of breastfeeding, you can:
- Try to resolve the issue by advising your employer of their obligations;
- Seek legal advice;
- Lodge a complaint with your local anti-discrimination body.