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Women encouraged to use free advice centres

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News Release Minister for Transport

Hon. Laurie B re re ton MP ♦ Minister for Industrial Relations

IR17/95 10 August, 1995


More women are being encouraged to use the Working Women’s Centres as one stop shops for free and confidential advice on work-related issues, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Laurie Brereton, said today.

Mr Brereton said that after almost six months of operations the four centres had received more than 3,500 enquiries from women about work-related matters.

“The Working Women’s Centres play a key role in achieving equity in the workplace by providing information and assistance to women, particularly women from non- English speaking and indigenous backgrounds,” the Minister said.

The Working Women’s Centres act as a referral point to government departments, trade unions and other specialist agencies so that women can get reliable information about issues such as pay and working conditions, occupational health and safety, training and employment discrimination. The centres assist unionised and non- unionised women as well as women re-entering the workforce.

Under the Government’s initiative, four major centres have been set up in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin and additional funding has been provided to the existing Adelaide centre.

Mr Brereton said that of the 3,500 queries from clients, some 1,350 had required detailed and specialist attention from staff at the centres. While the centres are for all women, each has developed its services in relation to particular target groups.

The Queensland centre assists women who live in regional and remote areas through the Open Learning network which offers shop-front services in Atherton, Barcaldine, Bundaberg, Gold Coast, Innisfail, Logan, Maryborough, Townsville and Weipa.

The New South Wales and Tasmanian centres are focusing their services on women from non-English speaking backgrounds while the Northern Territory and South Australian projects assist women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

backgrounds. The Adelaide Working Women’s Centre has recently received additional funding for an Aboriginal Industrial Liaison officer. 21 ...



Mr Brereton said the centres had reported that the largest number of requests for help had come from women seeking to re-enter the workforce and who required advice about training options and vocational planning. Other major issues being handled by the centres concern redundancy and dismissal.

Contact numbers for the Working Women’s Centres are:

NSW 1 800 062 166 Qld 1 800 621 458 Tas 1 800 644 589 NT 1 800 817 055 SA 1 800 817 055

Media contacts: Kate Hannon, Mr Brereton’s Office, (06) 277 7320 or Vicki Kapernick, Department of Industrial Relations, (06) 243 7890




10 AUGUST 1995

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am delighted to be here to launch the

Working Women’s Centres National Information Campaign. It’s an

occasion that marks an important new stage for the Centres, whose

establishment was one of our Government’s 1993 election campaign


That commitment stemmed from the Accord partners’recognition of the

need for a ‘one stop shop’ to advise women on all manner of work related

issues. Besides acting as an information point itself, the centre is a referral

point for women requiring the services of various Government

Departments, trade unions or specialist agencies. It has a particular focus on

disadvantaged groups like non-English speaking women and Aboriginal and

Torres Strait Islanders who may not be fully aware of their existing rights

and entitlements.

Those rights and entitlements may include such things as correct rates of

pay, occupational health and safety, workers compensation, redress against

unfair dismissal or protection in the event of employment discrimination. In

all these areas, our Government has undertaken important and progressive

reforms. The task of the Working Women’s Centres is to ensure that the

efficacy of these and earlier reforms is not undermined by a lack of

awareness or understanding on the part of those they aim to protect. Hence,

in terms of our philosophy, and our aims as a Government, the Working

Women’s Centre could not play a more crucial role.

With 3,500 client enquiries already received, clearly there is strong demand

for each of the Centres established by this Government, and for the existing

Adelaide Centre which recently received a Federal funding boost.

Of the enquiries received so far, the overwhelming majority have been from

women seeking to re-enter the workforce. Women seeking information

about redundancy and redress against unfair dismissal have also featured

prominently, something opponents of our landmark industrial relations

legislation would do well to observe. Then again, many of those opponents,

including the Federal Opposition, have absolutely no interest in the rights of

disadvantaged workers, be they female or male.

Those very same opponents have attacked every aspect of this

Government’s comprehensive package for women and families. Whether

you go back to the debate on the Sex Discrimination Act, whether you look

at their comments on nearly every safety net increase awarded by the

Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), whether you revisit

their attitude to every Accord, or their attitude to every new social policy

initiative, or whether you just look at their comments on the landmark

Industrial Relations Reform Act, the Federal Coalition have consistently

opposed every leap forward for women and for families. Yet now they have

the audacity to parade themselves as the champion of families, of battlers,

of women workers and of anyone else within earshot.

The same Leader of the Opposition who last time stood for 1950’s values, is

asking Australians to believe he has made a forty year jump into the 1990’s.

In the process he wants us to ignore everything he did and said in the last

twenty years to oppose the interests of women and families. Some might say

he’s travelled his road to Damascus. In reality he’s travelled a road littered

with political failure. So his response is to go from a politician who will

stand for what he believes in, to a politician who appears to stand for

nothing. Yet underneath it all, the same ‘picket fence’ philosophy which

gave us Future Directions in 1987, underpins the John Howard of the

1990’s. He’s just given a bright new paint job to that picket fence.

One only has to look at the speech long on rhetoric, short on detail that he

gave to the Coalition Women’s Forum on June 23 this year. With the

exception of a few statistics, it could easily have been a rehash of one of his

1987 speeches. And as for his recent ‘Headland’ speeches, one can only say

that the headland needs a lighthouse. At the moment the detail isn’t clear,

but when illuminated, the headland looks very treacherous indeed.

Yet there have been occasions I found myself agreeing with the Leader of

the Opposition recently. That was when he said to the Coalition Women’s

Forum that 'one of the great unresolved social issues of modem Australia is

the tension between work and family responsibilities’, and later when he

said that the solution lay in a ‘whole of policy approach’. On the latter

point, 1 couldn’t agree more. But what he neglected to say is that this

Government has always embraced such an approach, many parts of which

the Coalition continues to oppose.

Indeed our approach has been undeniably holistic - involving legislation.

Medicare, social security arrangements, child care and other community

services - such as the Working Women’s Centres, employment, education

and training initiatives, superannuation, and a whole raft of industrial

relations measures.

In terms of legislation the most notable achievements were of course the

Sex Discrimination Act and the Industrial Relations Reform Act. The latter,

because for the first time it guaranteed all workers equal pay for work of

equal value, redress in the event of unfair dismissal, a fair minimum wage

and 12 months unpaid parental leave. Furthermore it outlawed

discriminatory clauses in awards and enterprise agreements while requiring

the AIRC to take account of ILO Convention 156, the convention banning

discrimination against workers with family responsibilities, in the

performance of all its duties. Again it should be stressed, all of these

measures were opposed by the self proclaimed ‘pro family’ Coalition.

In the area of Social Security the Government introduced the means tested

family payment of $21.70 per child as well as an additional family payment

of up to $67.20 per fortnight for children under 13, and more for children

between 13 and 18. Furthermore we brought in the parenting allowance for

partners at home with children as well as the recently announced maternity

allowance. In addition the Government has boosted rent and childcare

assistance and allowed a childcare cash rebate for families.

Where community services are concerned the Government has overseen a

five-fold expansion in child care places since 1983 and given a commitment

to fully meet the projected demand for work related child care by 2001.

We’ve also provided greater child care assistance, with some 76% of

eligible families now receiving a measure of assistance with their child care


In a broad sense, the Government has established and then reinforced a

strong and comprehensive industrial relations and health safety net

consisting of Medicare, compulsory superannuation, and awards

supplemented by ILO minimum entitlements. At the same time we’ve seen

female participation in the workforce grow strongly, with women taking

62.6% of the record number of jobs created during the Government’s term.

And like all workers, those women and their families have benefited from

the positive macro-economic environment created by this government, one

of strong growth, low inflation and industrial peace.

When all these factors are taken into consideration, it’s clear we already

have what the Leader of the Opposition likes to call an ‘all of policy’

approach to work and family issues. Through initiatives like the Working

Women’s Centre, we are also addressing the specific needs of women and

disadvantaged workers within this broad approach.

Yet instead of praise all we hear from the Opposition is criticism. That

would be of little concern if it weren’t for the fact that, amongst the skerrick

of details we have on Opposition policies, there is a clear intention to

weaken, not strengthen, the package we provide for female workers and

their families.

For all of John Howard’s pro-family rhetoric he is still intent on weakening

Medicare in favour of private health insurance. And perhaps even more

importantly he is still intent on gutting the award system in favour of 4

minimum standards - a minimum hourly wage, 12 months unpaid maternity

leave, 2 weeks non-cumulative sick leave and 4 weeks annual leave.

All his obfuscation about ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ doesn’t change this basic

reality. Under an ‘opt-out’ system all new workers, and workers changing

jobs, would only be guaranteed 4 minimum standards. Furthermore workers

entering the bargaining process would face a bargaining process with unions

excluded, and a bargaining process overseen not by an independent

industrial umpire, but by a Productivity Commission. Presumably if the

employers have not squeezed enough productivity from workers through

enterprise bargaining, this Productivity Commission would intervene to

squeeze them some more. It would be something equivalent to an anti­

worker ‘carpet snake'.

In the end ‘opt-out’ will have the same effect overtime as ‘opt-in’, the

award system will be broken down. It’s just replaced the ‘big bang’ with the

‘big con’.

And who would be the industrial victims of this ‘big con’? Who would

suffer from his plan to erode Medicare? Whose services would be

undermined by their plan to slash up to $10 billion from Government


It would of course be many of the clients of the Working Women’s Centres.

The battlers. And that is the case whether they're one income or two income

battlers, one of the Leader of the Opposition’s favourite topics.

Yet would Working Women’s Centres be part of John Howard’s so called

‘all of policy’ approach to work and family issues. Would there be room for

them after $10 billion has been slashed from Federal Government


For while John Howard’s rhetoric is warm and fuzzy and his detail scarce,

the philosophy and policy program are as hard line as they’ve always been.

Sure he’ll have an all of Government approach, one that uses all arms of

policy to disadvantage the disadvantaged.

Only under a Labor Government are all the policy arms targeted at helping

workers balance family responsibilities, aimed at helping the disadvantaged

worker, aimed at helping women. The Working Women’s Centres arc a very

important part of that policy package. They provide a vital service for

working women, particularly women from disadvantaged groups. As such, I

am delighted to launch the Working Women’s Centres National Information

Campaign. May it be a resounding success.