Interview: The Binds That Tie
Unions: Worth Cycling For
Industrial: The Elephant in the Corner
Legal: A Law Unto Themselves
Politics: Ethically Lonely
History: Women, Unions, Banners and Parades
Women: Relaxed and Comfortable?
International: The Last Social Democrat
Review: The Corpse Bride
Culture: Tony Moore Holds His Own
The Locker Room
A Free Vote
John Bares All
Tom A World Away
Relaxed and Comfortable?
At the last Federal Election the Howard Government took pride in what they said was making Australian voters feel `relaxed and comfortable'. John Howard asked Australian voters to trust him.
Now one year later we find that the Government has with obscene haste pushed through the Federal Parliament industrial relations and welfare laws, which were, not announced prior to the 2004 Election and which will radically alter the working lives of many Australian workers and their families. All workers have good reason to be worried and concerned, not relaxed and comfortable. This is especially true for women workers.
Now that the Howard Government has control of the Senate they were able to rush through Parliament two pieces of legislation that will dramatically affect working women. The usual time for debate and opportunity for community input through consultation and through submissions to Senate Inquiries was hurriedly cut short and many stakeholders were excluded from the process. The Workchoices Legislation and the Welfare to Work Legislation when seen together threaten the wages, conditions and welfare of many women.
Workchoices is a wholesale assault on the working conditions of Australians. It single-handily removes rights and entitlements that have been hard fought for by workers, their trade unions and women's organisations . It effectively takes everything bar a few bare minimum and says to workers `see if you can bargain anything back'. It changes the way minimum wages are set, removes trade rights to effectively represent their members, it removes many achievements in equal pay and family friendly practices, it removes unfair dismissals protection from most workers. The Welfare to Work legislation puts many jobless single parents and people with disabilities onto lower payments and many will lose payments entirely for eight weeks if they refuse a minimum wage job, or have to leave a job.
What does this mean for women and their families?
Women are 45 per cent of the Australian labour force. Women are employed in retail trade, health and community services, education, hospitality, government and personal service. Women are 60 per cent of casual workers and 71 per cent of part-time workers are women. When we look at low wage workers we find that women dominate the low pay sector. The low paid sector of the economy is not made up of young workers on a training wage but is dominated by women, the majority of whom have dependent children and many of which are sole parent families. Women low wage workers are also paid less than male low paid workers. Because women have times out of the labour force for child bearing and caring responsibilities they are more reliant on the aged pension than men, have less superannuation and are more likely to live in poverty in their older age. Women also bear the responsibility for the care of family members with disabilities and for older members of their family. Lone parents are predominately women and lone mothers tend to have younger children living with them. Lone parents are more likely to rely on government pensions and allowances as their source of income and lone parents are over-represented in long-term low-income groups.
The Howard Government in Workchoices has removed the Minimum Wage setting process from the independent Australian Industrial Relations Commission to a new body curiously titled the Fair Pay Commission. The new body has its objective of `promoting economic prosperity and job creation' not a fair and equitable wage. Women are more reliant on minimum wages than men. The Government has consistently argued against fair wage increases in the Safety Net Cases taken by the ACTU. The frequency of adjustment to the minimum wage by the new body is unclear and is subject to Ministerial intervention.
WorkChoices will remove any advances in equal remuneration achieved in the State jurisdiction. Many State Public sector workers who work in Constitutional Corporations will be forced into the Federal system and could be threatened with their conditions being downgraded to the basic five minimum standards and to having their rights to be represented by their union severely curtailed.
The Welfare to Work legislation puts some single parents and people with disabilities on lower payments. Some single parents with school age children will have their weekly benefits cut. Sole parent on unemployment benefits could lose their payments if they refuse to take a minimum wage job.
Taken together these changes will affect the whole of the workforce in a race to the bottom. Unemployed and many sole parents will have no option but to accept a job with bare minimum standards and a declining minimum wage. Single parents and people with disabilities are disadvantaged in finding work. Childcare costs, the need for family friendly hours and special health considerations for workers with disabilities all disadvantage these most vulnerable of workers. Putting these workers on lower payments will not provide them with the resources to improve their skills and find decent and secure work.
Workchoices will force many women workers to accept individual contracts (AWAs) and deny them the ability to be effectively represented by trade unions. For many women it will not be `take it or leave it', it will mean `take it or lose your benefit'. Restrictions on right to access workplaces will threaten the health and safety of many women workers, particularly outworkers. The new minimum standards for family leave are below that already set down in awards and agreements. It is difficult to image that women will now be able to bargain work and family entitlements into individual contracts when the employer associations and the Federal Government have consistently argued against improvements in these conditions in cases before the Industrial Relations Commission.
Women workers have a lot to lose - we are more reliant on a fair and just welfare and industrial relations regulatory system. I certainly don't feel relaxed and comfortable!!!
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