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The South Australian, Northern Territory, and Queensland Working Women’s Centres welcome Labor’s promise to ensure there are properly funded Working Women’s Centres in every Australian state and territory.
With this announcement, Labor has recognised that Working Women’s Centre’s service models are crucial to addressing the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
All corners of the country are calling on the federal government to address sexual harassment in the workplace.
Recommendation 49 of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report is that ‘Australian governments provide increased and recurrent funding to working women’s centres to provide information, advice, and assistance to vulnerable workers who experience sexual harassment. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner recognised the unique holistic support provided by Working Women’s Centres:
“We found they were uniquely the most effective, victim-centric model that could deliver support, advice [and] advocacy to women [across a] range of issues in their work.”
The federal government accepted this recommendation. Now is the time for the government to make a concrete funding announcement.
Working Women’s Centres call for bipartisan commitment to fully fund Working Women’s Centres. The prevention of sexual harassment should not be a political football. We need the federal government to immediately announce a funding package for the working women’s centres. The Northern Territory Working Women’s Centre is just months away from closing.
Two out of five Australian women experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years, but the Federal Government has failed to properly fund the Working Women’s Centres that provide
All three centres have seen an exponential increase in enquiries about sexual harassment. The South Australian Working Women’s Centre has seen a 200% increase in enquiries since March 2021.
Quotes attributable to Nicki Petrou, Director NT Working Women’s Centre:
“With our one-off interim Federal funding running out in September, and without a further funding commitment from the Federal government, we will have to close the NT Working Women’s Centre by the end of the year. We will need to tell Territory women that we will no longer be there when things go wrong in the workplace, when they need our support.
We do not want to see Territory women the casualties of a political funding battle especially when every minute counts for us right now. “
“The need for this funding is urgent: there has been a national outcry against workplace sexual harassment and assault that we know occurs in every industry. We cannot delay this. The NTWWC do not want to start turning women away especially when as a society we are now encouraging women to come forward and share their story, to say enough is enough but not provide the support that is needed!”
Quote attributable to Abbey Kendall, Director of SA Working Women’s Centre
“We have been fighting for funding recognition for the last 8 months and we welcome Labor’s pledge to sustainably fund Working Women’s Centres and ensure that all Australian women can have access to our world leading model of service, no matter where they work and live. Sexual harassment in the workplace should not be politicised.
“We need funding action from the federal government and bi-partisan support for our services. This is a no-brainer, the federal government have an opportunity to make their mark in the prevention of sexual harassment, and they can do it by funding a holistic, professional and trauma informed service that has a proven track record of improving the lives of Australian working women.”
Quotes attributable to Claire Moore, Acting Director of Basic Rights Queensland (Working Women’s Centre QLD)
“WWCs have proven our worth over many years. We support women to understand their rights and have access to the system to achieve outcomes when these rights have been violated. The struggle for effective funding has highlighted the unmet needs of women and the impact on their lives, their workplaces , and their families. The Respect@Work report acknowledged the need for these services as an integral element of the response to the systemic damage to women who are damaged by harassment, discrimination, and isolation. Their voices need to be heard.”
Save our Working Women’s Centres website: https://saveourworkingwomenscentres.com.au/
The Northern Territory Working Women’s Centre — a community-based non-profit organisation that supports women through gender discrimination, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace — is at risk of closure. Sign the petition to demand federal funding — it only takes 2 minutes! To read more about Refinery29 Australia’s long-term initiative to dismantle sexual harassment in the workplace, visit the #FiredUp hub.
Nicki Petrou, the director of the NTWWC, says the NT government gives the centre $200,000 a year, but another $700,000 annually is needed to keep it open. If the federal government doesn’t commit to this funding soon, she fears being forced to make staff cuts, reduce operating hours from five to three days a week in September, and potentially closing doors in November.
“[The funding] will be able to at least fund us properly, and to be able to respond appropriately to the demand,” Petrou told Refinery29 Australia.
This interview was published by the Advertiser SA Weekend on July 31 2021
The inside story of how thousands of Australians who have been the victim of wage theft are finally fighting back. Plus, the big corporate names dragged into the courtroom.
Xiao An was looking for a job. She had recently graduated from her marketing course at the University of South Australia and the Chinese national was keen to stay in Adelaide. Like many international students, Xiao An looked on the Adelaide BBS website. It’s a kind of Chinese-language marketplace where you can find houses to rent, cars to buy and where jobs are advertised.
“When I graduated I wanted to find a job and get some experience,” the now 21-year-old says. “I feel this is suitable for me and I applied.”
The job she found was in advertising and sales for a wine business based in the city. Xiao An, not her real name, was there for two months and was never paid. The excuses started early. It was the end of the financial year, she was told. The company was being restructured.
“They even showed me the screenshot of the bank account of the company, saying they did not have enough money to pay so I have to wait,” she says.
“I feel like I am constantly being frauded. The boss kept making unrealistic promises to me that I’ll be promoted, getting a high yearly salary.”
All the while, Xiao An was working five days a week, sometimes weekends as well.
“I had to work full-time, and even overtime during weekends in that toxic, competitive environment but nothing was paid. Sometimes after working, I cried all the way to home. It was so stressful,” she says.
The issue of workers being underpaid, or not paid at all, was thrust firmly into the spotlight in February when a video of an assault at the Fun Tea store in Chinatown went viral. The video showed a young worker at Fun Tea being slapped and kicked after complaining she was only being paid $10 an hour, less than half the wage the worker was entitled to. The national minimum wage is $20.33 an hour.
A man called Lei Guo has pleaded guilty to the assault and will be sentenced next month. Guo was said to be a friend of then Fun Tea director Jason Duan, who later appeared on a video with a Sydney-based YouTube user and admitted he had only paid the victim $10 an hour.
The assault of the young student caused immediate backlash and brought renewed focus on to a dark part of the national economy – the exploitation of young and vulnerable workers by those who employ them. Often they are international students on visas with no understanding of their rights, with poor English skills and little support.
The federal government’s Fair Work Ombudsman started an investigation into Chinatown’s restaurants and a preliminary report found “very high” non-compliance levels.
That investigation is ongoing but in April, the Ombudsman Sandra Parker said: “Our intelligence indicates that Adelaide’s Chinatown precinct employs many workers on visas who may also have limited English skills, which can lead to vulnerability and exploitation.” It is expected the Ombudsman will file charges year end.
Part of the solution may be for universities to provide more information to its students when they arrive in the country to tell them what their rights are and what support is available to them.
Meng Liu came to Australia in 2018 to study social work at Flinders. She, too, was ripped off by an employer.
“The first month I was here, I realised that everyone around me was doing an underpaid job, like all the international students I knew,” Liu says. “At that stage I didn’t know that was illegal.