Employers need to be pushed to do more on the issues of menstrual health and menopause in the workplace, according to a coalition of the country’s largest trade unions which have called on called on Government to make it mandatory for companies to have policies in the area.
The group, which includes Siptu, Fórsa, Unite, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), organised under the “Stop the Stigma” banner, called for a variety of supports including flexible working, the provision of free menstrual products, physical accommodations and, where necessary, paid time off, at an event in Leinster House on Tuesday.
Representatives pointed to a wide range of union-backed research from the past few years that suggests a strong desire on the part of members to see improvements to the way the issues are handled by employers.
A survey by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions found that almost half of respondents felt that menopause was treated “like a joke” in their workplaces. More recently, Fórsa found just 1 per cent of those it surveyed felt they had benefited from a workplace menopause policy, while 64 per cent of those who participated in the INTO research said they believed there was a stigma attached to the topic around the workplace.
The group, which also includes the Financial Services and Communication Workers’ Unions, points to a significant growth in the number of women participating in the workforce over the past 20 years and to an increase in their age profile as strengthening their case for greater supports. The issue, the unions say, is an equality one but also about helping to recruit and retain staff.
It argues women are entitled to protections under existing employment legislation. It also contends the introduction of appropriate supports would have a significant impact on sick-leave absences in workplaces, something that would benefit both workers and their employers.
The issue, said Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the INMO, “has never been more urgent. There is a huge need for education and awareness training for all staff in our workplaces, and across society. The silence around women’s health issues is damaging, and it impacts equality in society and at work”.
“This is very serious. The potential for women’s careers to be negatively impacted particularly by menopause needs to be eliminated, and education and awareness training are key to reducing stigma and facilitating the vital conversations women need to have at work.
“Development of workplace policies is an employer’s responsibility,” she said.
The group said it recognised the Government had some progress in the area of women’s health and acknowledged the funding of the Women’s Health Action Plan, but said the impact was slow to be felt in workplaces where a range of specific measures were needed.
In the meantime, it welcomed Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman’s announcement of research and guidance for employers and employees on menstruation and menopause in the workplace, which is expected to be launched early next year, it said.