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Could we be getting menstrual leave in Australia — and what would it look like?

BAZAAR breaks down everything you need to know.
By Ella Sangster

menstrual leave australia

FOR PEOPLE WITH PERIODS, the nature of menstruation to impact your day to day life — let alone your ability to focus and perform at work and/or school — is beyond frustrating.

More than 90 per cent of those under 25 who menstruate report regular period pain. Yes, 90 per cent. For some, the discomfort can be so bad that it renders them unable to focus and perform, which, when it comes to the workplace, is less than ideal. Many women have to reduce their work hours or take time off to manage their symptoms.

Last week, Spain became the first country in Europe to offer paid menstrual leave for women with severe period pain. In a statement, Spanish Congress said the new legislation makes it possible for women to call in sick “in case of incapacitating menstruation.” The move comes after countries across Africa and Asia introduced similar bills. Now, Australia could be following suit.

Who is lobbying for menstrual leave in Australia?

A group of Australia’s largest unions — the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), United Workers’ Union (UWU), Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and Australian Workers’ Manufacturing Union (AMWU) — have come together to fight for the right to menstrual leave to be enshrined in Australian Law.

Backed by workplace law firm Maurice Blackburn, the unions aim to tackle issues pertaining to menstruation and menopause in the workplace.

Inside Another Land #30 by Del Kathryn Barton (2017) | INSTAGRAM / @DELKATHRYNBARTON

What would Australia’s menstrual leave policy be?

The proposed policy is designed to be flexible based on the needs of employees, but at a minimum, would give those who have painful periods or menopause symptoms one day per month or 12 days a year of paid leave.

The five aforementioned unions have begun surveying members to ascertain which entitlements would be most appropriate for their respective industries. Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jessica Heron told ABC that the firm was working with them to develop tailored policies.

“If we can fit the law reform into one neat amendment to the Fair Work Act then great,” she told the publication. “Otherwise we will have to look at other options such as applying for variation of industry-wide awards.”

Do any Australian companies already have menstrual leave — and what do they look like?

Modibodi and Future Super are among the few Australian corporations with a clear menstrual policy, as well as The Victorian Women’s Trust.

The latter have even created a template, which they encourage other organisations to use in developing their own policies. It reads:

“The policy is designed to be flexible depending on the employee’s needs, providing for the following options:

  1. The possibility of working from home,
  2. The opportunity to stay in the workplace under circumstances which encourage the comfort of the employee E.g. resting in a quiet area; or
  3. The possibility of taking a day’s paid leave.

In the case of paid leave, employees are entitled to a maximum of 12 paid days per calendar year (pro-rata, non-cumulative) in the event of inability to perform work duties because of menstruation and menopause, and their associated symptoms.

A medical certificate is not required.”

Discover more about ModiBodi’s policy — and its impacts — here.

modibodi menstrual leave policy
Modibodi already have a menstrual policy | INSTAGRAM / @MODIBODI

Are there any potential problems with paid menstrual leave?

While at large, menstrual leave — and the creation of a policy in Australia — is a good thing, there are some shortcomings of it as well.

In the workplace, archaic stereotypes that women are emotional and less reliable still permeate many industries. There is concern surrounding how a policy like this could incite gender-based discrimination, lead to potential harassment to access the leave, or embolden misogynistic stereotypes. Similar arguments were also raised prior to the introduction of maternity leave laws.

Some also pose that it could stigmatise menstruation. Others argue the total opposite.

“We are open to criticism and will respond constructively,” Heron told ABC. “On the question of how men will benefit from this? Seeking additional entitlements for women to be able to not just survive in the workplace, but thrive, will no doubt have a positive impact on the lives of men, in both the broader socioeconomic sense but also in their own homes too.”