Sacked, but `too expensive to fight’
21 July 2006
A working mother sacked while on maternity leave is resigned to finding a new job because it is too expensive to challenge her former employer in court.
Former marketing manager Elaine Gray was told last month she had no job to return to when she contacted Diaelect Solutions to confirm a return date after six months of maternity leave.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley paid a visit to Ms Gray’s home in Sydney’s inner west yesterday to gain more mileage out of an apparent voter backlash against the Howard Government’s workplace reforms.
"John Howard has made 11 million Australians easy to sack," he said.
Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said Mr Beazley was trying to mislead the public and said Ms Gray was entitled to $4000 in free legal advice if her case proceeded to court.
Ms Gray said she was aware of the payment, but "I was under the impression that to challenge anything in the Federal Court would cost more than that".
She said she was told the bad news by Diaelect’s human resources manager Helen Welsh as she was finalising a coveted daycare place for her five-monthold son Paul.
She asked, Is there somewhere you can sit down?’ and I said, Is what you’re going to tell me that had I need to be sitting?’ Ms Gray said. "She said, Your job doesn’t exist so there is no reason for you to come back’."
Ms Welsh declined to comment yesterday.
Under the Howard Government’s workplace reforms, employees sacked for "operational reasons" have no recourse to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction.
Ms Gray immediately sought advice from a solicitor and later consulted a barrister but decided not to pursue the matter because of the cost.
"The next step was to take it further, which, with a new house, mortgage, family to raise, that’s not a situation that we’re able to entertain," she said.
Under the old system, Ms Gray could file an unfair termination case in a less costly industrial tribunal. But now, Ms Gray’s only legal recourse would be to claim she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy in an unlawful termination claim in court.
She said she initially had an agreement from Diaelect to return to work part-time, but then two days before she went on maternity leave, the company had encouraged her to return fulltime.