Tuesday, 23 June 2009

children at work

i was quite interested by the discussion around this story about an australian MP who took her child into the house for a short while:

Politics has to be, perhaps along with long-distance road transport, one of the least family-friendly occupations in the country.

Even your average backbench Federal MP works long hours. They’re away in Canberra 19-20 weeks of the year, and with a long schedule of electorate events and duties when they’re back home. Ministers, shadow ministers and swing vote senators, who have to get their heads around every piece of legislation and work out whether to back it or amend it, work even harder.

This time of year, the last sittings before the winter recess, are particularly intense.

Sarah Hanson-Young is to be commended for having her child with her in the chamber yesterday. It was for a division, not a debate, and her daughter was about to leave to return to Adelaide.

Instead there has been some remarkable vitriol, particularly on radio, and from at least one of her colleagues, Barnaby Joyce, who accused her of pulling a stunt. That was one of the lowest jibes I’ve seen in this place for a while. The distraught look on Hanson-Young’s face as a staffer took her daughter outside didn’t look much like a stunt.

the debate is mostly between those who think there's no place for children at all in the workplace, and those who think workplaces should be more accommodating of family needs. and then there are those who are saying that this was just a one-off event in the case of a particular crisis, and why is everyone making such a huge deal of it.

as for me, i'm a working mum & well know the pressures associated with that. i'm really lucky to have a workplace where my employers are really understanding, and i'm also lucky to have an office of my own. which means that i've had one or other of the children with me during the day, now and again, when childcare has fallen through in the school holidays or when one of them is sick. it does mean i'm not as productive as i would have been if the child wasn't there, but it's at least a lot more productive than if i hadn't been there at all.

when my eldest was really little & i was working at a university, i'd often take her in with me to lectures. she'd be well fed and sleeping on the floor near me in her little carry cot. or, when she was a bit older, i'd sit her to one side with a few toys and she'd play away quietly. of course, once they're toddlers who want to be running around, there isn't the scope for that.

i know that many workers don't have the luxury of having their kids with them in the workplace, and i'm sure this places stress on many families. it's probably high time that we, as a society, put much more thought into the structure of workplaces. at least this aussie MP has gotten a real debate going in her country.


Anna said...

I took my babies to work, and it was great (if stressful at times). You can't do it in every workplace of course, but it worked well enough for me, and people were by and large pretty supportive. I had to go back to work but didn't feel quite ready to put the wee ones in care, so it was perfect!

barvasfiend said...

Not sure if you got the footage over there in NZ, but I don't think it was a stunt. That poor kid howled like the world was coming to an end, and the house sat in silence, listening to her crying for her mother, only interrupted by the speaker, who said, coldly, "Lock the doors".

Handled badly all round. But hey, this week in Australian parliament someone's faked an email about a ute! A ute! So quite understandably, there'll be no more fuss over those uppity women in parliament!

Anna said...

A ute, you say?

I'm pretty sure this isn't the first time this has happened in Aussie - wasn't there a woman parliamentarian who caused a stir by breastfeeding in the House?

Julie said...

My partner has taken our son to work on many occasions, no problems with his colleagues at all, in fact they quite like seeing Wriggly. My workmates have been similarly welcoming, although I've not taken him to work with me much really, as he's now too old for that to work for him or me. But when he gets a bit older again I'd be happy to take him in with me again and I hope my colleagues would be ok with it too.

Because it goes both ways. Like on Tuesday when I had to take a day off so my partner could go to a funeral, while I looked after Wriggly. There was a meeting I couldn't shift, and as I knew the participants quite well I took my son with me. I also did a whole lot of work and calls while he was asleep. So they got some work out of me when I was ostensibly having a day off.

If we are not going to have children at work then could we also please not have work over our contracted hours which we do during time we would normally be parenting? MPs work ridiculous hours, often physically distanced from their families, as it is.

Deborah has a great post about this too.