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PAGE 18 MELBOURNE MOTHERS MATTER AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2010

RETURNING TO WORK

Fair and Flexible Workplace Awards BY: EDEN COX

Mothers Matter attended the prestigious Fair and Flexible Workplace Awards 2010 and discovered some of the best family-friendly workplaces in Melbourne.

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arenthood is still viewed as an inconvenience in many workplaces, but those businesses that have realised the value of family-friendly policies are reaping the benefits—retaining skilled and loyal staff and improving productivity. And the desire for flexible employment opportunities continues to grow as Victorian fathers demand more time with their families, and a new generation of young mothers are keen to jump back into their careers. The Victorian Government’s Working Families Council has applauded businesses that are making things easier for working families with the second annual Fair and Flexible Employer Recognition Awards. Mothers Matter attended the special awards ceremony on the 23rd of June to meet representatives of the 27 inspirational Melbourne workplaces that have developed fair and flexible policies to improve the work and family balance of their employees. Representatives from award-winning companies joined Government officials at the prestigious gala evening held in a marbled function room high above the dazzling Melbourne city. The room buzzed with excited conversation as drinks and canapés were passed around. Proud guests were keen to discuss their workplace’s flexible initiatives, and hear the stories of other award recipients. Ilona Charles, Interim Chair of the Working Families Council was MC for the evening, and she praised the winning employers for their strong leadership, open communication and innovation. “This is a very exciting evening for all of us,” she said. “Now in its second year of operation the awards are certainly proving to be a major success.”

Fair and Flexible Workplace Award Trophies

“The Working Families Council is keen to recognise employers working out there in the community to improve the work and family balance of their employees.” Ms Charles said the awards showcase companies and organisations that showed flair, imagination, and empathy in developing workplace conditions that not only improve the lives of working families, but help to make organisations more productive and able to attract and retain employees. The winning businesses and organisations will be profiled on the ‘ways2work’ website, www.ways2work.business.vic.gov.au, which helps parents enter or re-enter the workforce, and provides advice to businesses on creating a better work/life balance. Minister for Industrial Relations Martin

Hobsons Bay City Council award recipients with Minister Pakula and Ilona Charles of the Working Families Council.

Pakula congratulated all recipients for the foresight and leadership they showed in creating better, happier, healthier and more successful workplaces. He said workplace fairness, particularly for parents, has really become the order of the day in the last couple of years, and flexible work practices are evolving and increasing. “This shows that businesses are becoming keenly aware of the positive benefits of flexibility, not just for workers or workers’ families but for the wellbeing of the enterprise itself,” he said. Minister Pakula also said the award recipients were ‘pace setters’ in best practice for family-friendly business. “The prestige of being a recipient of one of these recognitions should not be underestimated by anyone in this room,” he added.

After the recipients were presented with an impressive mounted glass plaque and framed certificate, each had photos taken with the minister. We spoke to several of the proud winners to find out how their organisation makes life easier for working parents. Vision Australia, an organisation providing blindness and low vision services, won its award for a range of practices that assist vision impaired staff to meet their commitments both during and outside work hours. For parents this includes maternity, paternity, adoption carer’s and permanent place foster care leave, job share and flexible working from home arrangements. “Our parental leave is quite generous,” said Vision Australia representative Ranmali McCormack. “We offer 11 weeks of paid parental leave and 12 months initially, and if they want to extend that then there’s the possibility of that too.” Ms McCormack explained that another benefit for parents is the option to purchase an extra two weeks of leave, which they can take over the school holidays. Being flexible with hours and leave has enabled the organisation to attract and retain employees. “Having someone who’s worked for us before return in some capacity is always positive rather than having to recruit and train new staff. We find most mums take up maternity leave for 12 months, then request to return to part-time work,” she said. Among the winners were five local governments, one of which was Hobsons Bay City Council, whose flexible work practices stood out as very impressive. The elated Manager of Human Performance Terri Rowe spoke to us about how the council supports parents in its employ. She listed a huge range of programs and services, starting with extensive paid parental leave. “I had a letter today from an employer who fell pregnant whilst on maternity leave. She now gets another two years off for her second child, without having to come back to work,” said Ms Rowe. This flexibility has meant staff are keen to return to their jobs when the leave period is over.


MELBOURNE MOTHERS MATTER AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2010 PAGE 19

RETURNING TO WORK “Staff really value the support and really want to return to Hobsons Bay for a lifestyle choice as well as financial reasons,” she said. Ms Rowe explained that the council provides breastfeeding facilities and four sponsored childcare places for employees, along with supported childcare for parents who need to attend meetings outside of work hours. Whilst most parents who make use of the council’s parenting programs are women, Ms Rowe said that dads are definitely starting to take their paid parental leave too. “We have a number of fathers who have taken that time off and I think it’s important that they do this to spend quality time with their families. If you’re a new family you all need that time to adjust,” she said. “We allow time off during pregnancy for the woman to go to medical appointments, but also for partners to attend the appointments as well. We also recognise same sex couples with this program,” she added. Minister Pakula said it was great to see that alongside large government organisations, even small companies were offering flexible options for their staff, and Civic Timber and Hardware in Colac received special applause when their award was presented. Managing Director Stephen Rippon was humble in his acceptance and said that flexible workplaces keep employees happy and make an especially big difference to single parent families. “Our timber yard manager has to alternate with his wife to drop the kids off and pick them up from school, so he has to leave early or start late,” said Mr Rippon, adding that both mums and dads now take up the opportunities of a flexible workplace. “He’s a good boss! If we ever need to go or leave work he lets us go,” added Tania Kelly, one of Mr Rippon’s long-time employees, who has been able to adapt her working hours to the changing needs of her family.

VACCA award recipients; Connie Salamone, Emma Bamblett and Con Lambros, VACCA Human Resources Manager.

Three representatives from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) presented a different story again. The organisation provides a range of services for vulnerable Aboriginal children and families and a staff wellbeing program is central to operations. VACCA representative Connie Salamone said, “We provide a range of services, from running playgroups and family services, to providing accommodation for children who have been abused, and providing homelessness services.” Con Lambros, Human Resources Manager at VACCA, said that flexibility and staff support are intrinsic to operations within the organization. “Our workforce is predominantly aboriginal or indigenous and we want to support, attract and retain Aboriginal people, so flexible practices have organically become

policies.” Emma Bamblett, the third VACCA representative in attendance, said the organisation offers health checks for employees at work. “Our employees are so busy running around caring for their families that they don’t have time to look after their own health,” she said. Due to conditions of poverty among many of VACCA’s employees, the organisation also offers staff a free once-per-year loan for when there are particular demands on employees and their families. “We have very flexible leave arrangements too,” added Ms Salamone. “Most of our workforce is female so we really encourage women to come back to work with maternity leave. We pace it at the individual rather than having a policy.” VACCA’s 90 per cent staff return rate after maternity leave is a good indication that the

approach is working for both employer and employees. The Working Families Council of Victoria recognises this and has been actively promoting family-friendly workplaces so that businesses retain and attract the best staff. This has been particularly successful for Monash University, which has won an award for the second year in a row with initiatives such as flexible hours, family and childcare support, and working from home arrangements. “Our parental leave provisions are really good, particularly for mothers,” said Andrea Heyward, Monash University’s Director HR Planning and Performance. “We offer 14 weeks full-paid leave, then 38 weeks at 60 per cent pay, which really makes sure women get settled back into work.” Ms Heyward said the university sees good staff retention rates over the long-term and some employees have enjoyed the maternity leave, then have gone on to take carer’s leave for their elderly parents several years later. “Many employees said they would’ve had to leave if it weren’t for the flexibility. It’s great to hear those stories.” As the successful awards night drew to a close, Minister Pakula emphasised the importance of making workplaces flexible and said it was equally important for government and government agencies to recognise and celebrate these achievements. As such, workplaces that received a Fair and Flexible Employer Award have exclusive use of the Fair and Flexible Employer brand mark for the next 12 months, which will promote the winners’ positive contribution to employee wellbeing and help attract the best new staff.

For more information on work practices or the Fair and Flexible Employer Awards contact Workforce Victoria on 03 9651 9565 or visit www.ways2work.business.vic.gov.au


The Fair and Flexible Awards in Mothers Matter