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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 365

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (16:54): I rise to congratulate Asian Women at Work, a wonderful organisation that has been operating in my electorate and throughout Sydney over the last 20 years. It is a great community service. Asian Women at Work represents a network of migrant women of Asian backgrounds, many of whom reside in my electorate of Fowler, where over 30 per cent of people come from Asian backgrounds. Last Sunday, I attended the event celebrating the organisation's 20th anniversary. The event provided an opportunity to look back on the formation of this organisation, to review its two successful decades and to enjoy many cultural performances and stories from current members.

Asian Women at Work was established in 1993 by a very courageous woman, Debbie Carstens, upon her return from a placement at the Urban Rural Mission of the Uniting Church in South Korea. She was inspired by the struggles of the independent trade union movement in South Korea and recognised the need for further representation for women of migrant backgrounds, particularly in the textile, clothing and footwear industries in Australia. Debbie was assisted in the noble cause of forming Asian Women at Work by the Uniting Church, the Baptist Inner City Ministries, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union and the SEARCH Foundation.

Today, Asian Women at Work provides a strong voice to over 2,000 members, who are often isolated from information and certainly from close support. The organisation has worked hard to educate women who, due to their limited knowledge and skills, including language skills, are often not aware of their legal rights and are vulnerable to exploitation.

In addition to providing a strong voice for migrant women workers, Asian Women at Work provides a place where women can share their common interests, fears and hopes. Members are able to enjoy educational classes, including English and computer classes, and participate in various recreational events, including dancing and sports. This gives women who often work very hard and have worked hard all their lives an opportunity to come together to relax, form friendships and learn new skills. The Fairfield-Cabramatta branch of this organisation, located at the epicentre of my electorate, in Cabramatta, organises a number of successful education and entertainment activities for these women. These activities include swimming classes for Vietnamese and Chinese migrant workers and computer classes, which are regularly attended by women in my electorate. The computer classes are vital because they provide an opportunity for people to stay in touch as well as be able to apply for jobs online in the fast-moving labour market of south-west Sydney.

Other projects currently undertaken include a drama group and a life-skills-sharing group who work in vegetable gardens, sharing information on food and nutrition—and one of the big things is working to preserve traditional Asian cultures. That is also something which this group should be applauded for. Regrettably, many studies support the need for such organisations as Asian Women at Work, because, unfortunately, there is a large body of evidence that says that people who come from migrant backgrounds are often susceptible to exploitation in low-paid jobs. That is one of the areas in which this organisation works hard to protect its members and it is because of that susceptibility that I consider the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Act 2012, which ensures protection and rights for contract outworkers, one of the most significant achievements of the previous Labor government in protecting workers' rights.

In recent conversations with representatives of Asian Women at Work, I was told they fear the new developments of the Abbott government that might mean a step back in time, particularly when it comes to workers' rights. I congratulate Asian Women at Work—its leadership, including Coordinator Lina Cabaero, Bich Thuy Pham, Ronnie Wang and Angela Zhang; its many staff; its volunteers; and its 2,000 members. I congratulate them on their 20 years of great work and service to a community in looking after people in need.

House adjourned at 17:00