Interview: The Month Of Living Dangerously
Unions: Staying Mum
Economics: Precious Metals
Industrial: The Cold 100
History: The Vinegar Hill Mob
Legal: Free Agents
Politics: Under The Influence
International: How Swede It Was
Review: Keating's Men Slam Dance on Howard
The Locker Room
The Power of Ones
Think of Pru Goward's attempts to enter the NSW Parliament and perhaps this quote below from Corinthians which she uttered late last year has come back to haunt her...
"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them speak to their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in the church."
As Pru Goward slams into the glass ceiling of the Liberal Party Church and gets a quick numbers lesson from the ruling extremists of NSW Liberals - her imminent failure symbolises how poorly Australian women have fared under Howard and Costello.
Pru Goward's five year term as Sex Discrimination Commissioner ends this month and her attempts to find a new job aren't going very well. Some elements of the NSW Liberal Party would probably like to see her in the kitchen rather than the seat of Epping.
Is it her gender, or is it because she's not extremist enough?
Pru has had some things to say about Howard and Costello's IR laws. In November last year when addressing religion and women's rights she said, "...This is a fairly topical point in light of the federal Government's new workplace relations laws, we no longer put people to death for working on Sundays, as prescribed in Chapter 35 of Exodus, verse 2. In fact soon people will be able to be sacked for not working on Sunday!"
Despite her profile and the work she's put in for the last few Sundays - Pru's story looks like being just another page in a book of shame about the treatment of women.
The unfair consequences of a decade of Howard/Costello decisions are being highlighted by the stories of Australian women. The disasters are commonplace and have become common knowledge.
Just a few examples from NSW workplaces...
There's Jane Lee from the Hills district in Sydney, former Cubby House childcare worker of 15 years and lifetime Liberal voter. The first day after "WorkChoices" came into effect Jane was handed a job description listing 41 tasks - when she was familiar with or had training in only 7. Just 3 days later, she was fired. No comebacks.
Jane's workplace "agreement" also deleted the hard won March 2006 "Pay Equity" decision of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, which found that childcare work had been historically undervalued because most employees in the industry are female. That's 15,000 mostly women workers in NSW who stand to lose between $70 and $160 a week through "WorkChoices".
There's Lorissa Stevens, Australian Women's Soccer International player and mine worker - who was bullied and intimidated then sacked just months after "WorkChoices" came into effect because she wouldn't sign an AWA that cut her wages and penalty rates. One particularly un-Australian clause would have fined her $200 for not anticipating being sick!
Up until now, Lorissa had been making headway in a male dominated industry - the resources sector that John Howard says needs "WorkChoices". Apparently the same resources sector doesn't want working women.
Because "WorkChoices" is aimed at severely restricting Union activity, more women workers will have to submit to bullying, intimidation and losing their jobs unfairly.
Howard has used persistent weasel words about how people can sue for unfair dismissal if they're sacked because of family obligations. But hands up all those women out there with a spare $30,000 to finance their day in court? And hands up all those employers who will state to a court that they sacked someone based on marital status, pregnancy, family obligations or gender? I didn't think so...
Employers don't have to state a reason at all.
There's Amber Oswald - Pow Juice employee and High School student - who when she questioned the new AWA's cut of $40 per week to her casual wages was told by her boss, if she didn't like the new "WorkChoices" rates he would find someone else.
Women are standing up to "WorkChoices - no choices for workers legislation", and it's no wonder.
The reductions of award conditions through Howard and Costello's un-Australian AWAs have hit women hardest. Women rely on collectively negotiated and publicly available awards at twice the rate men do.
Women on the average wage are paid 5% less now than they were in 1996 in real terms.
But when you compare women and men's rates, women are faring much worse under Howard and Costello. On top of women's real wage falls, men get about $160 more than a woman for doing the same job. Women on un-Australian AWAs earn $5 an hour less than men.
It's worse in industries where women dominate, like childcare, retail, and social and community services. Even the Howard Government's Office of Employment Advocate has figures showing that women on AWAs earn just 50% of male earnings in the retail sector.
ABS figures show women comprise less than half (47%) of the work force but represent two thirds (65%) of Australians earning less than $500 a week.
A lot of that work is precarious, part-time and/or casual - nearly half of women workers work part-time, compared with only 15% of male workers.
Low paid jobs are often casual and irregular in nature, are of shorter shifts, there's a lack of control over the workplace and in setting of shifts, little predictability in arranging childcare, less opportunity for skill and career development.
The effect on superannuation of ten years of Howard-Costello decisions will leave women at even greater disadvantage in coming years.
Just in case NSW National Party Leader Andrew Stoner reads this I should confirm for him that "WorkChoices" abolished the "no disadvantage test" which used to mean any trade-offs negotiated with employers in working conditions could not be seen to disadvantage the employee.
Howard has weaselled his arse off for decades. He's getting better at it each year. One of his most used weasel tactics is talking about so-called flexibility in un-Australian AWAs. But here again, women fare badly, with only 7% of private sector individual contracts containing any work-family measure. That's 1 in 15 women with some flexibility, but all of them have lost other things no less important.
It was hard enough juggling care responsibilities and finding the money to look after the household before the latest changes. It's another poverty trap and this time employers pushing AWAs benefit from cheaper labour.
One of the worst elements of "WorkChoices" is the demolition of the Australian Industrial Relations Court (AIRC) and replacement with the Australian Fair Pay Commission.
The Howard/Costello Government - who has opposed every increase in the minimum wage since 1996 - has personally selected 5 Commissioners, but only one is a woman. It's pretty galling considering that decisions of the Commission will impact women hardest.
Previously the independent AIRC was legally obliged to consider the needs of working families when figuring out the minimum wage.
The AIRC was required to think - about things like maternity leave, how to prevent discrimination against workers who have family responsibilities, and how to reconcile those responsibilities. But under Howard and Costello, the Fair Pay Commission need only consider "promoting economic prosperity and job creation" rather than "economic prosperity and welfare."
The Fair Pay Commission doesn't even have to hold public hearings or hear from workers affected by its decisions. And there's no appeals process.
Past rulings of the independent AIRC that benefited women and community fabric have been dumped. Things like the right to request 2 years unpaid parental leave when their child is born, and the right to request part-time work until their child reaches school age. Now it's up to an employer to choose whether or not to grant these things
Things that were previously rights are now employer's discretions. And if you don't like it? Tough.
Welfare to Work came in on July 1, bringing yet more injustice to women. Single parent families make up a quarter of Australian families. Many are women, and we're talking hundreds of thousands.
From now on under Howard and Costello, single parents must look for 15 hours of paid work once their youngest child turns eight (down from 12) or face losing payments for a period of 8 weeks.
This new threat of state enforced poverty provides the "incentive" for women who will be forced to take more low paid jobs with stuff all conditions. At the same time, they'll need to make arrangements for care for their young children, or alternatively, 8 year olds can look after themselves.
Howard and Costello have systematically destroyed childcare programs and reduced availability of and access to childcare. For all the spin, the hype about Family Day Care places doesn't hide the increasing and unmet need for quality community centre-based care.
Howard and Costello choose to sideline childcare issues and instead moralise on children's books in kindergartens that depict same sex parents. We don't hear diddly-squat from them about women struggling for access to quality care for their children.
For migrant women, the impact of Howard and Costello has been even worse. This group of women face lack of education opportunities, language issues, responsibility for financial support of families in countries of origin, negative stereotypes and racist behaviour in the workplace, and less likelihood of having overseas-gained qualifications recognised.
With no proper safety nets or support services, migrant women increasingly are forced to rely on informal networks for accommodation, food, clothing and employment." Welfare organisations have been gutted under Howard's "pro-family" regime.
In 2004, we saw Howard and Costello interfere in Domestic Violence campaigns - stopping the "No Respect, No Relationship" and replacing it with the "It's not okay" approach. There was some dog whistling about men also being victims of domestic violence, and imbalance against men in considerations of the Family Court.
All in all, women are hurting the most under Howard and Costello's "No Choices" environment.
The appalling list of wrongs that have been done to women by Conservatives over the last 10 years include - WorkChoices, Welfare to Work, changes to superannuation, childcare funding cuts, Family Law Act changes, RU486, cuts to the Federal Sex Discrimination Office, interference in Domestic Violence initiatives, cuts to emergency accommodation under SAAP provisions, GST on tampons, refugee women in detention, ongoing exploitation of outworkers.
Perhaps I could end on a more positive note with another quote from Pru Goward which talks about change. For her sake, and the sake of Australian women, we need change and I hope she's right sooner than later.
Pru said, "The law being inherently conservative needs social change to precede it and support it...change cannot be really stalled, if there is a social movement pushing from behind. And for women's equality, the momentum for change is great. It will not be stopped."
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]
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