Australian women need to join their union now more than ever writes SDA National Assistant Secretary Julia Fox.
The union movement has been at the forefront of women’s rights in Australia since the beginning.
When women entered the workforce out of necessity during World War II to defeating the Howard Government’s WorkChoices and the recent Fair Work decision on penalty rates – unions have long argued for equal opportunity and strong protections for working women.
In the 1970s the SDA ran a campaign to encourage female participation in the retail industry for their members. The campaign addressed issues and provided practical help that women wouldn’t even think of today:
- Learn how to drive
- Teach their husband to cook
- Teach their children to housekeep
- Take an adult education course
- Apply for a promotion at work
The SDA recognised both the value of women in the retail industry and the difficulties they would face entering the workforce.
Encouraging women to actively participate at work in the 70s set the agenda for the SDA to pursue women’s rights at work for years to come, many of which we take for granted today.
The union has resourced countless submissions and developed policies on sexual harassment, discrimination, unpaid and paid parental leave, pregnancy at work, child care and superannuation.
While the union movement can stand proud of all its achieved in advancing the rights of women at work – protecting our hard-won achievements continues today as workers’ rights are attacked by conservative governments and employer groups.
The recent Fair Work decision to cut Sunday and Public Holiday penalty rates disproportionately affects women in retail and fast food industries. 55% of the 700,000+ workers impacted by these cuts are women. Women who more often than not work casually or part-time to balance looking after their families too – they will be some of the hardest hit by these cuts.
Retail workers stand to lose up to $2,000 from their pay packet each year – something the SDA has fought tooth and nail to stop from happening in several cases over many years. The SDA ran this case to defend penalty rates in Awards and will continue to protect the take-home pay of affected workers following the decision.
SAFETY AT WORK
Retail and fast food workers are regularly faced with abusive and violent customers in their workplace. Since 2015, 5,500 retail and fast food workers advised the SDA they had experienced customer abuse or violence. In a recent survey 13% of female workers said the incidents of customer abuse and violence were sexual in nature.
The SDA is running a nation-wide campaign focused on respecting retail and fast food workers and their right to a safe workplace.
DOMESTIC & FAMILY VIOLENCE LEAVE
The SDA has supported the Australian Council of Trade Unions in their case to introduce Domestic & Family Violence Leave into Modern Awards. Domestic Violence Leave is crucial to providing employment and financial security for women trying to escape an abusive and violent relationship.
The SDA has already negotiated Domestic & Family Violence Leave in several SDA-negotiated Agreements which cover members. Introducing this Leave in Awards would see broader coverage for retail and fast food workers.
On average women in Australia retire with 47% less superannuation savings than Australian men.
Women continue to provide most of the caring in society whether it be care of children, elderly parents or other family. To do this women are forced to take time out from the workforce and work casually or part-time over many years. As a result they are left with less financial security when they retire.
The SDA continues to argue for greater recognition and value for the caring work women undertake and improvements to a range of policy areas including superannuation that will give women more economic security in retirement.
PAID PARENTAL LEAVE
For decades the SDA lobbied for the introduction of paid parental leave. It was introduced under the Gillard Labor Government in 2010.
Since this time it has been used as political football, with the Liberal Government fixated on making cuts. In 2015, 2016 and again in early 2017 the Turnbull Government tried to introduce cuts to Paid Parental Leave that would have forced thousands of Australian retail workers back to work early, costing them precious time with their newborn.
The SDA, ACTU and other unions were able to successfully lobby the crossbench senators, including the Nick Xenophon Team, to oppose the cuts.
JOIN YOUR UNION
If you’re not a member of the SDA or relevant your union, now is the time to join. More union members means improved wages and conditions for women.
Record low wage growth, the increasing cost of living and child care is starting to take its toll on Australian families. If you are feeling down about the current state of affairs for working women in Australia – don’t be.
There are over 200,000 SDA Members in Australia and thousands more union members from across all industries.
Think of those union women and men who have been there with you since day one – join them today!
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