Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 51 Official Organ of LaborNet 28 April 2000  




.  LaborNET

.  Ask Neale

.  Tool of the Week


Swelling the Ranks

By Zoe Reynolds

Jenny Wright wears the honour of being the nation's first pregnant wharfie modestly. But it's not all clear sailing for this trailblazer.


Jenny Wright at Work

This is not Jenny's only claim to fame. Her family have worked the wharves for four generations, beginning with great grandfather Hugh Sykes (left), grandfather Tom Sykes and Uncle Jim Wright.

"This is going to be a fifth generation wharfie," she says, patting her overalls. The Patrick Webb Dock supplementary came onto the wharves soon after the Patrick dispute, one of 30 women to join the swelling ranks of casual workers. And as a casual, being pregnant is a concern.

"I don't feel I've got any job security," said Jenny. "And my partner only has a casual labouring job. So its a bit of a worry."

Casual work offers no job security and no parental leave.

"Management don't make me feel very welcome at the moment. I told them I was having a baby when I was about five months. They took me off lashing on deck and onto light duties without complaining . But the other day when my feet were a bit swollen and I was wearing runners, they started picking on me. It was really unfair. They'd turned a blind eye to some of ships service men wearing runners on deck . And they've warned me I' must have a medical before they'll think of taking me back on the job after my baby is born."

Jenny is not our only pregnant waterfront worker. Port Botany stevedoring worker Christine Romano is also expecting her first child as are Burnie members Sharon Maree Dobson and Kendra Leeane Duncan. But these women work as clerical or office workers and enjoy the full entitlements of a permanent employee -12 months parental leave with exemption from union dues.

Women are a minority on the Australian wharves - only 75 of 6,351 (1.18 per cent) all up, according to the unions membership files. And all but a handful of these work in the more traditionally female office jobs. But recently women have become heavily over represented among the ranks of casual wharf labourers.

MUA women's delegate to the International Transport Workers' Federation and Port Botany wharfie Sue Gajdos is concerned.

"Too many women are concentrated in casual jobs Australia wide and far too many are left in casual jobs on the wharves," she said. "The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures compiled last year expose the discrimination. We've now got 26 per cent of the Australian workers in casual jobs. But only 22 per cent of men are casuals compared to 32 per cent of Australian women. That's bad enough, but on the wharves its much worse - 64 per cent of women stevedoring workers are casuals. At Patrick enterprises it's over 90 per cent. "

The maritime industry is still male dominated. While women make up nearly half the Australian workforce, they only make up 2.3 per cent of all maritime workers. In seafaring most women are concentrated in catering doing the traditional women's jobs of washing dishes and serving. And, coincidentally, almost half these jobs are casual.

Sue Gajdos wants to see more women in the industry. "We make good workers and good unionists, It's good to see so many women on the Patrick wharves. I'd like to see as many at P&O," she says. "But we need them in permanent jobs."

Assistant Branch Secretary Dave Cushion has a good idea why: "I think Patrick believed young women would be less Bolshi," he said. "You know 'let's do away with the macho culture of leftie wharfies flexing their industrial muscle all the time. Let's go for the meek and mild. But they were mistaken."

Dave says even the young men and women they've brought onto the wharves who were a bit apolitical and anti-union to start out, soon came across: "You see Patrick just can't help themselves," he said. "They're such fascists.

"All they had to do with these young people was cuddle them a bit. Look after them. But no, they recruit these ex military people into management (like former Newcastle manager, now Patrick HQ special projects executive Major Chris O'Brien or Melbourne's human resources manager, former Navy personnel Colin Bambrook ). They bully and bark at these young supps and get their backs up. I mean fancy picking on a pregnant woman with swollen ankles for driving the ute in runners instead of heavy work boots."

Major O'Brien is currently the central figure in a land mark discrimination action before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, involving his treatment of a single mother in the Australian Army (The Australian, 22/3/00).

Dave says the Patrick motto is 'all they need is a bit of discipline'. "They heavy the kids and they come running to us," he says. "We don't even have to go out recruiting the supps. They get so pissed off they beg to join the union. You could say management do our recruitment job for us."

Recruitment is not a problem on the wharves, but casualisation is, especially at Patrick and the union is concerned. Assistant National Secretaries Mick O'Leary, Jim Tannock and Branch Secretary Mick Cottrell are all pushing for more permanents and less supps.

"They've got no reason not to take them on," said Mick O'Leary. "The part timers and GeeWees give them all the flexibility to meet the peaks and troughs of the industry they need. They're only guaranteed a couple of days, but they work a full week when the terminal is busy. And giving

people a career path, moving them up from supps to GeeWees to permanent positions, gives workers an incentive to stay on the job, get that extra experience and skills to really perform."

Meanwhile MUA women's delegate Sue Gajdos is not about to remain silent on how management is avoiding its equal opportunity obligations. She is delivering a paper on the casual women on the wharves issue when she attends the ITF women's conference in London on April 25.

"Women have proven themselves on the job and we're becoming active in the union. We've broken down the macho image of the wharfies that the tabloids have used against the union for over a century. It was their main PR weapon in the lead up and during the Patrick dispute. Women are good for

the union and women are good for the job. There should be more of us."

Jenny Wright agrees. "The men accept us on the wharves," she says, tapping her swollen belly and enjoying looking just like one of the boys. "We work together well. It's like a family. I feel I belong here."


*    Visit the MUA

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 51 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Wrestling With Reith
CPSU national secretary Wendy Caird has faced the full force of Peter Reith's attack on the federal public sector. The good news is she's still fighting.
*  Unions: The Organiser
As the nature of working life changes fundamentally, union organisers like Sally are taking up the challenge and changing too.
*  Safety: Remembering the Fallen
NSW Industrial Relations Minister Jeff Shaw's keynote address to mark the International Day of Mourning for Deaths in the Workplace.
*  History: May Day Connections
May Day as a modern working class celebration and commemoration began from the 1886 events in Chicago where workers were demonstrating for an eight hour day. But the day already had special significance for working people before then.
*  Women: Swelling the Ranks
Jenny Wright wears the honour of being the nation's first pregnant wharfie modestly. But it's not all clear sailing for this trailblazer.
*  International: Dawn Raid to Arrest Korean Union Leaders
Riot police have broken into the office of the Daewoo Motors Workers Union in Pupyung, near Seoul, and taken union leaders into custody for the "crime" of leading a militant struggle to save the jobs of Korean auto workers.
*  Satire: Angry Star City Staff Strike it Unlucky
Gamblers panicked when they discovered they were locked out of the Casino when 1800 workers walked out.
*  Review: The World of Wobbly Window Cleaners
A new book 'Reshaping the Labour Market' shines the spotlight on the impact of labour market deregulation.

»  Government to Outsource Staff Relations
»  Dial-A-Contract Hits Call Centres
»  Reith Loses Plot Over 'Bad Bargaining' Bible
»  Prayer for the Fallen Marks International Day
»  Entitlement Time-Bomb Still Ticking
»  No Joy for Southern Picket
»  Union Fighter Shapes Up For Casino Workers
»  Stopped Clock Starts Ticking at Sydney Water
»  Telstra Tangle Over 'Honest Rob'
»  A Week of May Days
»  Big Drum Up for East Timor!
»  Pick a Pollie - the Truth Revealed

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  SOCOG Makes Another Meal Of It
»  Seeking Unionists With Blues
»  Is Red Ken So Clean?

What you can do

Notice Board
- Check out the latest events

Latest Issue

View entire latest issue
- print all of the articles!

Previous Issues

Subject index

Search all issues

Enter keyword(s):

Workers Online - 2nd place Labourstart website of the year


Wobbly Radio

[ Home ][ Notice Board ][ Search ][ Previous Issues ][ Latest Issue ]

© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW

LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSW

Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

[ Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Credits ]

LaborNET is proudly created, designed and programmed by Social Change Online for the Labor Council of NSW


 Labor Council of NSW

[Workers Online]

[Social Change Online]