Employment Relations Amendment Bill - Flavell
Employment Relations (Breaks and Infant Feeding) Amendment Bill
Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki
Wednesday 9 April 2008; 5.15pm
Tena koe Madam Speaker, tena
Although this bill isn’t just about breast-feeding, having five children myself, I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the issue, even if it was in an observer's capacity.
I have always harboured a quiet belief that tangata whenua are at the cutting edge of most innovative and enterprising initiatives in our world. This Bill provides a classic opportunity to recognise this.
You see, almost a century ago, as a 1909 publication put forward by Dr Maui Pomare reveals, Maori were suggesting that the longer a baby could be breastfed, the better.
Nga Kohungahunga Me Nga Kai Ma Ratou was written by Dr Maui Pomare when he was a Native Health Officer and was initially published by the Te Aute Society.
The booklet recommended that babies ought to be breastfed as it is both beneficial to the child and health-giving to the mother. As Dr Pomare explained,
Ko te U o te whaea te mea tika, a ko te atua
hoki tena i homai ai hei ngote ma ngâ pepe;
The mother’s breast, that which was given by God for babies to suck on, is so right.”
And so here we are, a century later, finally requiring facilities and breaks to be provided for employees who wish to breastfeed in the workplace or during work periods; as well as requiring employees to be provided with rest breaks and meal breaks.
Dr Pomare may well have wondered, why it took so long - and particularly when we consider that around three-quarters of mothers with children under one year of age are now in paid employment.
Madam Speaker, it’s all
to do with attitude.
I recall the late Irihapeti Ramsden, having presented research which revealed that while Sir Maui was writing his guidelines, there was evidence of social attitudes which actually frowned on breastfeeding in public.
An attitude which seemingly is still prevalent, as reported in the 2006 'Infant Feeding and Work' study developed by Dr Debbie Payne, Director of AUT's Centre for Midwifery and Women's Health Research.
The study, New Zealand’s first qualitative study of breastfeeding mothers at work, identified that many women were put off breastfeeding in the workplace after observing the treatment of other employees trying to feed their babies.
Some of the women had to feed in the shower cubicle; and other members tonight have referred to these issues, others received feedback from their peers which implied that feeding mothers were simply slacking off at work.
Bill today attempts to directly impact on these
It responds to the problems reported in the study – that women who breastfeed in the workplace are often discouraged by a lack of facilities and the attitude of their employers and colleagues.
One of the issues, which wahine Maori have commented on in the past, from what I have heard, is the acute discomfort they have experienced in being led to a space to breastfeed which is linked to a toilet.
As we all understand that breast milk is kai, the question that inevitably rises is would anyone in this House be happy to have their lunch in a toilet?
Presumably not – and as such, we hope the Bill will ensure that appropriate facilities are to be provided for breastfeeding and expressing breast milk, as well as storage for expressed breast milk.
Madam Speaker, breastfeeding has often been a stumbling point for mothers with babies returning to work with babies – faced with the choice of stopping breastfeeding or not being in paid work.
We hope that
through the leadership demonstrated by this Bill, that that
conundrum can be somewhat alleviated.
The issue of breastfeeding and paid work also raises the question as to whether we should consider extending paid parental leave to a twelve month period.
Although this Bill seeks to provide for some very significant rights and health benefits, the reality is that many women will just not be able to arrange for their babies to be brought in to the workplace, or for milk to be collected, at the time when baby needs it.
The ability for women to be able to have a real choice about whether to stay home with their babies while breastfeeding is hugely dependent on the kind of financial support that paid parental leave can offer.
The current choice, along with negative attitudes to breastfeeding in public, are significant barriers and as such, act directly against the Government’s intentions to protect, promote and support breastfeeding as a Key Health Target.
We in the Maori Party have also thought that the strategy to promote and protect breastfeeding through the creation of minimum standards should, at the very least, consider some ways of communicating the message that employers and workplaces are being required to become more family friendly, and that the wellness of children and mothers is an employment priority.
Madam Speaker, a recent study of Maori women’s decision-making around breastfeeding by Marewa Glover, Harangi Manaena-Biddle and John Waldon revealed that whanau are central and that whanau should be mobilised to support healthy choices.
The women’s partners, mothers, sisters and aunties were cited most often as having a role in the decision to breastfeed and in supporting breastfeeding.
For workers then, we see the developments
in this Bill as being a real gain for whanau
The other key set of amendments included in this Bill require employers to provide employees with paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks.
As a result of this legislation, rest and meal breaks are required to be provided at two hourly intervals, where reasonable and practicable.
As the Council of Trade Unions has pointed out, I believe, these changes are long overdue. People have taken it for granted that rest and meal breaks were already provided for in law. We've taken it for granted because before the Employment Contracts Act 1991, breaks had been provided for.
And yet, some seventeen years later, we are now informed that breaks are a frequent issue raised in the collective bargaining in newly unionised work places even though, more rightfully, they should be guaranteed by law.
Madam Speaker, rest and meal breaks are not included in the minimum codes legislation at present - which provides for minimum wages, paid parental leave, holidays, and health and safety - and yet one would surely assume that having breaks is critical for health and safety and wellbeing.
Although it seems bizarre for these times and conditions, it is apparent that there is no explicit legal requirement for employees to have rest and meal breaks. While almost 93% of active collective agreements provide for them, there are some sectors where the provision of breaks is inadequate, and it is hoped that this Bill will do much to bring the necessary changes in to enhance the overall workplace environment.
Madam Speaker, the Service and Food Workers Union for example reported that the largest number of calls and queries they field are from employees asking about their rest and meal break entitlements.
Most of these employees are in small workplaces across the hospitality sector which aren’t covered by collective agreements.
Madam Speaker, these are human rights, they are health and safety rights, they are basic employment provisions, and the Maori Party is happy to support them as consistent with our position for workplace environments to be worker friendly.
We believe also that this Bill is entirely consistent with Maori Party policies on health and wellbeing of tamariki and whanau.
We are therefore very pleased to be able to support this Bill and look forward to the subsequent stages of the Bill to hear the voices and views of all parties involved.