Aileen McHenry-Allen with her baby, Elliott Gladman. She says she experienced pregnancy discrimination. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Aileen McHenry-Allen with her baby, Elliott Gladman. She says she experienced pregnancy discrimination. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Mum-to-be told to consider abortion to take fewer sick days

THIS woman says while she was pregnant her employer told her she was going to the toilet too often so it would schedule unpaid breaks for her to urinate.

And she says her manager at the major call centre company called her unborn baby a "tumour".

Another pregnant woman also working at Stellar Asia Pacific, which has large ATO contracts, says it was suggested she consider an abortion because she had taken too much time off sick.

Two other staffers with medical conditions were told to drink less water so they didn't need to go to the toilet as often. Another says she was told to "train" her body to only need to go during scheduled breaks.

While at Stellar these workers fielded calls for the Australian Taxation Office from the public and businesses. Since 2013, Stellar has been awarded nearly $120 million worth of ATO contracts. It has centres in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Wollongong and employs more than 1000 people.

MORE: ATO call centre workers paid less than Macca's workers

Aileen McHenry-Allen says she wouldn’t want any woman to go through what she did. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Aileen McHenry-Allen says she wouldn’t want any woman to go through what she did. Picture: Jamie Hanson

In April last year Aileen McHenry-Allen, then five months' pregnant, wrote to Stellar's management to complain that a superior had told her "to take two or three additional 10-minute breaks unpaid" because "there is something pressing against my bladder". In the letter she said the superior had previously called her unborn child a "tumour".

In her complaint Ms McHenry-Allen said she was forced into a meeting and told she would either need to work an extra half an hour at day's end to make up for time lost in the toilet or that her pay would be cut by half an hour.

Prior to this incident Ms McHenry-Allen had planned to work until near her due date. But instead she left Stellar after just one more day at Stellar's Maroochydore centre.

"I honestly don't want anyone else to be ever be treated like that," Ms McHenry-Allen told News Corp Australia yesterday.

RELATED: Stellar workers paid less than Macca's burger flippers

Ms McHenry-Allen during her pregnancy. Picture: Supplied
Ms McHenry-Allen during her pregnancy. Picture: Supplied

Another woman, who asked to remain unnamed, said in 2015 she was presented with a tally of her days off, to which she responded by revealing she was pregnant. She said management already knew she had been recently hospitalised due to severe stomach pain.

She said the response was "are you sure you should keep the baby? Wouldn't it be best to get rid of it?"

A woman with a diagnosed medical condition affecting her bladder said: "I was told to reduce the amount of coffee and water I drank so I wasn't peeing during shifts."

Unscheduled toilet breaks were further discouraged because Stellar's centre did not - and still does not - have its own bathrooms. Its 300 workers use common facilities in the Maroochydore mall.

The shopping centre toilets on their floor were often closed for cleaning and maintenance due to overuse, workers say.

Stellar's current enterprise bargaining agreement says a worker on a shift of less than 7.5 hours is entitled to one paid break of 15 minutes and 30 minutes unpaid.

Another woman, who also asked not to be named, recalled being told "you've got to train your body to go the toilet in your breaks.

"I said 'I don't get paid enough to wet my pants'," the woman, who has since left Stellar, said.

A man who has also since left Stellar said: "It was frowned upon to go to the bathroom during your shift. We were told to go to the toilet during our breaks and that that's what they are for."

Two other workers said staff who took unscheduled toilet breaks missed out on bonuses for failing a key performance indicator called "adherence". Elderly staff in particular had to be "counselled".

Ms McHenry-Allen with a newly born Elliott. Picture: Supplied
Ms McHenry-Allen with a newly born Elliott. Picture: Supplied

A Stellar spokesman said "we … do not condone any behaviour that is not in line with our value of respect.

"We respect the privacy of our people and do not comment on individuals or personal circumstances," he said.

There were "adequate numbers of accessible toilets", he said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has received 47 complaints alleging pregnancy discrimination so far in 2017-18, up from 32 in the same period last financial year - an increase of 47 per cent.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said one in two mothers are discriminated against during pregnancy, parental leave or on their return to work.

"This is unacceptable and workplaces must do more to prevent discrimination," Ms Jenkins said.

An Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland spokeswoman said pregnancy was a "protected attribute" under law and urged any worker who believed they had been mistreated to file a complaint.

The ATO said "due to privacy considerations we are unable to comment on individual staff members or contractors".

Follow this reporter's work on Facebook or Twitter

Know more? john.rolfe@news.com.au