insecure work: the new attack on working women
It’s a truth universally known by all women that we aren’t trying to “have it all” when we have children and work. We’re trying to have children and live with the dignity and respect we get from being able to pay all our bills.
Another universal truth known to all us women is the feeling we get at work that something isn’t quite right.
We get it when a meeting is scheduled for 6pm even though our colleagues know we’re a mum and need to pick the kids up. Or when we look around our workplace and realise women are filling most of the lower paid positions and men the highest paid. Or when we notice a male colleague has accidentally left his pay slip in the lunch room and we see he is being paid 20% more than us to do exactly the same job.
They’re forms of discrimination that tie a hand behind a woman’s back and don’t give her a target to fight back at.
But what we women universally don’t know about is a new and alarming work trend that is keeping us in poorly paid positions; positions without basic entitlements or the ability to climb the work ladder.
It’s called insecure work.
That’s the broad category that casual work, contract work and labour hire work falls into. It’s the work that takes us back to a time before the eight-hour work day, before sick leave, holiday pay and carers entitlements. It’s these kinds of jobs that more than half of Australia’s working women have.
In my role at the National Union of Workers I see the consequences of insecure work on women every day.
At an International Women’s Day event last week, one of our members told us she had been working in the same job for four years. She works full-time hours but is still on a casual contract. She has to wait for a text message each morning to tell her she has work that day. Her work won’t even respect her enough to put her on the roster.
She wants to travel home for a holiday to see her extended family but there is no security in her text messages. She’s worried if she takes a holiday she will return to no texts.
When we asked her what the consequences of her insecure work are on her family she said, ‘stress on my relationship, it leads to fighting and pressure over money.’
Our guest speaker for the day was Viv. She’s a union delegate at a cold storage warehouse that supplies goods to Coles. This warehouse has 700 workers and had no female delegates until Viv arrived.
She told us about three women in her workplace that had been working full-time hours on casual contracts for more than six months. They had excellent reports from their supervisors and applied for permanent jobs. As part of the “medical” test they had to complete for their application they were told do a push up test. The women all failed the push up test while the men who applied all passed. The women were told they couldn’t get permanent jobs and now couldn’t even work casually.
Of course they couldn’t lodge an unfair dismissal claim. They were casuals.
But Viv was having none of this. She had a petition signed by all the workers and went to management demanding they get their jobs back.
They did. Permanent ones too.
Viv also intervened when management told all the casuals they had to start work at 3am and do overtime even though they were rostered to start at 5am. Now, it’s hard enough to get someone to look after your child at 5am. But how is a mum, especially a single mum, meant to get childcare at 3am?
Viv put her foot down and told management the women would start at their rostered time. She knew these women needed to be able to look after their families.
But how many of us have a Viv to fight for our right to be a woman, to be a mum or a carer and to be treated fairly at work?
Many women are falling into insecure work because they can’t get permanent jobs that allow them to care for children or other family members. And women are still doing two-thirds of all our country’s caring.
It’s why the ACTU’s Insecure Work Summit in Canberra this week is so crucial.
The summit is being chaired by former deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe and will hear from academics, unions and Australian workers about the impact of insecure work. We’re taking the stories of our female members to the summit because they’re important stories that need to be addressed. They’re also a big part of our Jobs You Can Count On campaign. It’s about giving both men and women the right to secure work that allows them to pay the bills and care for their families each week.
At International Women’s Day last week we asked our female members to plan an event – it could be a morning tea, an after work drink, a dinner – to talk about the impact of insecure work and get their female colleagues and friends to sign a pledge to fight for secure work for all of us.
And we want to invite all Lipsters to do the same.
It’s up to all of us to talk to the women in our lives about this crucial issue so we all fight together.
Because this is one fight where we can see the target and can fight for our work rights.
For more information go to http://www.nuw.org.au/campaigns/international-womens-day
By Julie Warren
Julie Warren is the President of the National Union of Workers (Victoria) and has been with the Union for over 16 years. During her time at the Union, Julie has been involved with organising in the Eastern suburbs and has recently has taken on the responsibility of Branch Trainer. Julie has had extensive involvement in vocational education throughout her career. Current appointments include Deputy Chair of the Manufacturing Skills Taskforce for the last 6 years. Julie is also a Board member of LUCRFSuper Community Partnership Trust.