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Specialist employment law centres that help women take action against underpayment and sexual harassment are warning they are at risk of closure as a decision on giving them permanent funding is delayed.
The federal government is still consulting states and territories over funding for the working women’s centres, which the landmark Respect@Work report from the national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces recommended should be increased and made recurrent.
Standalone working women’s centres exist only in Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. They are specialist workplace legal services that advise and represent women who aren’t union members and can’t afford private lawyers.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins recommended in the Respect@Work report that their funding should be boosted and similar services set up in the states that don’t have them.
“Our national inquiry found that support, advice and advocacy for victim-survivors of sexual harassment should be delivered through a multifaceted, holistic approach, including smooth and speedy referrals between services,”
she told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Working women’s centres are well-placed to act as a central hub for this approach and address the intersectional needs of victim-survivors in a way that other services may be unable to.”
Adelaide worker Lauren sought out the SA working women’s centre after being owed money when she was made redundant from a marketing company at the start of the pandemic.
When she started speaking with the specialist service, she realised it could also help her deal with the sexual harassment she had experienced on the job.
“They gave me legal advice and help so that I could take it further. There’s no way I could take it further because I was owed so much money and it was the middle of COVID.”