Children in the modern office - all part of a day's work?

Bringing children to work
Bringing children to work 

THE Senate threw the baby out with the metaphoric bath water this week. But in doing so, the Senate has a reawakened a debate about the pace of cultural change in workplaces.

Whether it's a parliamentary chamber, a CEO's eyrie or call centre, is the modern-day office a no-go zone for children?

Is the modern-day office a no-go zone for children?

No, you should be able to roll out the welcome mat, say several equal opportunity advocates. In the aftermath of the exclusion of Greens' senator Sarah Hanson-Young's toddler, they argue the issue highlights Australia's unbalanced approach to caring responsibilities.

"Work intrudes into our homes, and I think there needs to be a bit of reciprocity here," said Eva Cox, a founder of the Women's Electoral Lobby. "Can we please start being reasonable about the fact that it's not the end of civilisation if you bring a child into the workplace sometimes."

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said she was disappointed at a "lack of flexibility" in the Senate president's exclusion of two-year-old Kora. "It's not like the senator was bringing her daughter in every week," she said.

More broadly, Ms Broderick argues, higher-ups in Australian workplaces need to model more flexible work arrangements for employees. It was reasonable, she said, for children to accompany their parents sometimes - fathers as much as mothers - into safe workplaces.

"If you are the CEO of a bank or big company and there's a pupil-free day at school, why shouldn't you bring your son or daughter into work?" she said. "That sends a strong message to your organisation."

As part of a reformist push, Ms Broderick urged Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also to be "more visible" in showing his caring responsibilities for his teenage son. "It's important for senior people to show they are a serious career player and a caring partner and parent," she said. Helen Szoke, from Victoria's Equal Opportunity Commission, also endorsed children's entry into work spaces "when appropriate".

Former Democrat senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who pushed in 2003 for changes to permit women to breastfeed in the Senate, said the exclusion of Kora this week had been an "overreaction".

She said that as a senator she had brought her two young children, Conrad and Cordelia, on separate occasions to late-night sittings in Parliament.

There was also unexpected support yesterday for the Greens' senator from the conservative-leaning Australian Family Association. "The Senate should have shown more discretion in the case," said spokesman John Morrissey. "I'd rather see a baby with its mother than in long-term day care."

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