One of the last decisions made by Deputy President Mansini of the Fair Work Commission, before she was appointed to the Federal Court by Michaelia Cash, was to allow Metro to slash pregnant workers take home pay, when they have transferred to a ‘safe role’.
Pregnant women who are unable to perform their usual role due to the risks it poses to their pregnancy or health have a right to be transferred to a ‘safe role’. This right is enshrined in the National Employment Standards and under the Metro Ops EA.
The RTBU’s position was that there should be no loss of pay when a worker is transferred into a safe job.
Pregnancy is often a vulnerable time in a woman’s life – particularly financially, as most prepare to take a long period of unpaid parental leave. Those last few pay checks in the lead up to birth are critical sources of income.
Two brave RTBU members initially raised this issue with me when I first started at the union.
Initially, I thought it must have been some administrative error and that once raised, there would be a quick fix and apology for the oversight. In the end, I was shocked to hear Metro’s response that in fact, they did not believe these women were legally entitled to maintain their take home pay and conditions, and even more surprised that they preferred to hire expensive lawyers to fight for their position to pay pregnant workers less.
One of the arguments that Metro ran was a very strict black letter legal interpretation of the EA. They argued that because these women had not had their rate of pay changed, the requirement to maintain their ‘full pay and conditions’ had been met. This was notwithstanding the fact that one of our members experienced a drop in her take home pay of around $1000 a month, due to the loss in shifts penalties at her new temporary job!
While we are bitterly disappointed with the Fair Work Commission’s decision, this is by no means the end of the RTBU’s fight for this entitlement. We do not accept that in this day and age, women should have to experience a drop in their take home, because their job is no longer safe – our members deserve to have their pay and conditions protected!
It is great that the RTBU will be back at the bargaining table with Metro Trains in approximately 6 months’ time. We will be fighting hard to ensure that an entitlement to ‘no loss of take home pay’ is enshrined for pregnant workers transferred into safe jobs.