The work area dubbed Nappy Alley by West Australian staff because it’s made up of mums who’ve returned from maternity leave has halved from six to three employees after three female senior journalists resigned this week, accusing editor Paul Armstrong of making their positions untenable.

Several sources have told Crikey that Armstrong is very clear about his feelings on maternity leave and mothers working part-time – he simply doesn’t believe in it. In a nutshell, one media insider told Crikey, Armstrong likes to use the phrase, “we’re not a f-cking creche.”

A West Australian insider has told Crikey that senior journalists Anne Calverley, Fran Spencer and Peta Rasdien, who have over 30 years experience between them, returned from maternity leave this year to work part-time but all three have now resigned.

According to our source, upon offering their resignation, Armstrong made these comments: 

– It’s borderline whether part-timers (ie working mothers) are an asset or a liability. 

– He’d been looking to employ some 28-year-old males who are young guns “prepared to go hard” but can’t find them anywhere. 

– He doesn’t know why people bother to work part-time, it simply can’t be done.

Crikey also understands that Armstrong recently asked a newly employed young woman during her interview if she planned to have children in the future.

The West Australian source told Crikey, “Armstrong’s relentless campaign against working mothers … included segregating them to an isolated area of the newsroom in a group far away from the action, that was subsequently dubbed Nappy Alley.”

“Many of the younger women who have witnessed the treatment of these experienced journos have been horrified and wondering about their own futures at The West,” the West source told Crikey. “Some among senior management, all male, have expressed disquiet about what has been going on and are urging the leavers to take action against discrimination.”

The West source told Crikey that staffers joke “never to mention the m-word.” Female part-time staffers are made to feel that they’re leaving the office on time to “go sip lattes. They’re treated as if they’re taking long weekends to play tennis and attend ladies’ luncheons, not to maintain their careers and keep an income rolling in.”

“To be fair, it was a bit unusual that six women left on maternity leave at the same time, but all it took was a bit of management,” the West source told Crikey.

Crikey understands that Rasdien and Spencer have taken jobs with PR firms and Calverley is returning to study. Two of the women had their farewell parties this week but Armstrong did not attend. Crikey understands that Calverley made a speech at her farewell party during which she warned young women at the paper that they may want to reconsider their futures.

Crikey contacted Armstrong for a comment but he didn’t get back to us before publication.

Peter Fray

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