Women In Education: Education Quarterly, Issue 8 2023
In 2007, the Government amended the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to make it an offence to discriminate against a person who breastfeeds, including the act of expressing milk.
Indirect discrimination – when a rule or requirement that is the same for everyone but unfairly affects people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and is not reasonable in the circumstances – is also against the law.
Determination 3 of 2011 under the Teaching Services Act prescribes the provision of lactation breaks for teachers in schools, recognising “the teacher’s needs in relation to the timing of the breaks”.
Departmental guidelines exist to support a teacher who chooses to breastfeed or express milk on return from maternity/parental leave. The Breastfeeding and Lactation Breaks in Schools – Guidelines for Principals and School Staff were updated and reissued in 2019.
The guidelines state: “Lactating teachers are entitled to two 30-minute paid lactation breaks per working day. Teachers who work for less than four hours per day shall be entitled to one paid 30-minute lactation break per day.”
Moreover, in consultation with the employee, every effort should be made to provide access to suitable facilities to support breastfeeding/expressing. As outlined in the guidelines “the manager should identify sensible, practical and reasonable ways to meet the employee’s need for access to:
- a private, lockable, hygienic room/space with a power point and comfortable seating
- facilities for washing hands and equipment
- refrigeration for storage of breast milk
- facilities for convenient storage of breast pumps and related equipment.”
While schools are not required to make a room available solely for the purpose of lactation breaks, they do need to implement a booking system for facilities used for lactation purposes and introduce “In use” signage to ensure privacy.
The guidelines provide examples of how schools can support teachers such as timetabling free periods/RFF to align where possible with lactation breaks; utilising non-teaching executive staff to cover lactation breaks or the use of casual relief/any spare staff entitlement to cover lactation breaks.
In addition, consideration can also be given to releasing teachers from before/after school staff meetings or other obligations to support their breastfeeding.
Any teacher wishing to access lactation breaks should discuss specific needs with their principal before their intended return to work.
A Federation Representative or Women’s Contact can act as a support person in meetings to negotiate the practical implementation of lactation breaks in the teacher’s school. Federation’s Professional Support section can be contacted for additional advice.