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Domestic Servitude Event

On 1 December 2023 the Working Women’s Centre SA hosted an event at Tadouni College in Port Adelaide on domestic servitude with keynote speakers Associate Professor Natalie Harkin and Elisabeth Lino de Araujo.  

The event was attended by Kaurna, Ngarrindjeri, and Narungga  Elders and activists, government officials, representatives of Aboriginal health, academics, union officials, APHEDA members, the Hon. Mira El Dannawi MLC, the Hon Steph Key, the Hon. Tammy Franks MCL and the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity, Jodeen Carney. 

We received apologies from the Hon. Kyam Maher, Attorney General, the first Aboriginal Attorney-General in South Australia, as well as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Minister for Industrial Relations and the Public Sector. We also received apologies from the Hon. Katrine Hildyard MP, Minister for Women and the Hon. Natalie Cook MP, Minister for Human Services. 

Associate Professor Natalie Harkin and Elisabeth Lino de Araujo shared their expertise, research and poetry on domestic servitude and advocacy of marginalised women. This event was an excellent demonstration of solidarity between Aboriginal and Timor Leste women as it presented the similarities between historical domestic servitude within our State, which makes up an under spoken element of Australia’s history, and domestic servitude that occurring in other parts of the world today, such as in Timor-Leste.

Associate Professor Natalie Harkin lectured at the event. She is seated and looking at a paper. In the background, there is a slide presentation.

Associate Professor Natalie Harkin

 

Elisabeth Lino de Araujo is the founder of the Working Women’s Centre Timor-Leste (WWCTL) in Dili, Timor-Leste. From 2007 Elisabeth has worked as the Country Manager of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA Timor Leste. Elizabeth presented on the incredible work that the WWCTL does, with a focus on advocacy for domestic and vulnerable female workers both in reaction to exploitation but in prevention. The Labour Code of Timor Leste was ratified by the Timorese Government in 2010, and the WWCTL has an outreach training workshop where they educate women on their rights at work in accordance with this legislation. We also heard Elisabeth present on another example of the fantastic advocacy of the WWCTL, on the proposed Special Law for Domestic Workers Bill in Timor Leste, which was drafted in 2017, and is awaiting promulgation. It was inspiring to hear about the WWCTL’s steadfast contribution to the formation of this Bill. 

Associate Professor Natalie Harkin is a Narungga poet and Research Fellow at Flinders University living on Kaurna Yerta, South Australia. She engages archival-poetic methods to document community Memory Stories and is a member of SA’s inaugural State Records/State Library Aboriginal Reference Group. Her research centres on Aboriginal women’s domestic service and labour histories, and Indigenous Living-Legacy / Memory Story archiving innovations for our time.  

Associate Professor Harkin presented on her research on historical domestic servitude of Aboriginal women and resulting stolen wages, of which the government in South Australia is yet to address. Further, she discussed the barriers in place for Aboriginal people to access their records through the State Archive today. An important underpinning theme of her work is the importance of the decolonisation of our state archives.  

Leadlight artist and Narungga woman Sharene Vandenbroak kindly allowed the Working Women’s Centre SA to display her stain glass artwork at this event. Her artwork entitled ‘See Her Shining in the Sun’ was featured in the larger exhibition ‘APRON-SORROW / SOVEREIGN -TEA’ in 2021. Sharene’s set of gorgeous handmade stain glass windows depicting her strong female family members performing domestic labour received much praise and enhanced the story telling atmosphere of this event. 

Event participants standing. In front of them is the stain glass artwork, and behind them, the Aboriginal flag.

(Left to right) Associate Professor Natalie Harkin, Sharene Vandenbroak, Elisabeth Lino de Araujo, Anne-Marie Hayes, Nikki Candy, Abbey Kendall

 

Stolen Wages Work 

The Working Women’s Centre SA organised this event as a result of meeting with multiple Aboriginal women and hearing their stories of work from the late 1950’s to late 1960’s. In acknowledgement of South Australia’s under recognised history of exploitation of Aboriginal workers, the WWC has been assisting several Aboriginal women to gain access to their records held in archives by the state government.  

The racially motivated policies that existed in South Australia up until the 1970’s facilitated control and exploitation of Aboriginal workers. Resultingly, it was common for Aboriginal workers to not be paid, or to be paid small, intermittent amounts of money for the work they performed. The types of work that were common for Aboriginal workers to perform historically were domestic and pastoral work. The WWC is funded to provide legal advice to women and vulnerable workers, and in line with our funding, domestic servitude is feminised work. In a recent submission from the WWC to the state government on the proposal for South Australia to form a Human Rights Act, the WWC submitted to the inquiry that Aboriginal people should have the right to have timely access to records that relate to them. A copy of the WWC’s submission can be found here.

The WWC has been working with Associate Professor Natalie Harkin in advocating for archive accessibility and assisting Aboriginal women to request their own government records relating to their historical employment. This is often a lengthy process with multiple bureaucratic obstacles, which creates further barriers for Aboriginal people to access their own records relating to themselves and their families.  

The WWC strongly supports and endorses the decolonisation of state records. Ensuring that Aboriginal people have timely and effortless access to their own records is an essential and crucial step towards truth telling and reconciliation of South Australia’s history of exploiting Aboriginal workers. 

Other states and territories in Australia such as QLD, NT, NSW, WA and the NT have addressed historical stolen wages that occurred within their jurisdictions. South Australia is yet to address this issue. 

The Working Women’s Centre SA would like to thank all who attended this highly successful event, and to further send a special thanks to both Elizabeth and Associate Professor Natalie Harkin for sharing their expertise. We look forward to continuing this collaboration and advocacy on these important issues with both Elizabeth and Associate Professor Natalie in the future. 

The 16 June marks International Day of the Domestic Worker. You can read about Domestic Workers, here. We look forward to platforming domestic workers and both their historic and current rights in the coming year.  

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(Left to right) Associate Professor Natalie Harkin, Sharene Vandenbroak, Elisabeth Lino de Araujo, Anne-Marie Hayes, Nikki Candy, Abbey Kendall.

Album launch of Perfection 12: Migrant Women’s fight against workplace sexual harassment.

In a show of support and solidarity, the Working Women’s Centre attended the Bread and Roses / Bret Mo Roses album launch, spotlighting the courageous battle of a group of 12 migrant women, members of the United Workers Union, who are fighting back after surviving sexual violence in the glasshouses of Perfection Fresh company.

These women, known as the Perfection 12, have bravely taken their fight to the Federal Court of Australia, seeking accountability and systemic change at Perfection Fresh, a major supplier to Coles and Woolworths, for failing to provide a safe workplace for its employees, particularly women who endure sexual harassment and assault within its glasshouses.

The Bread and Roses album, featuring the voices and stories of the 12 migrant women union members, marks a significant moment in the ongoing struggle, particularly highlighting the sacrifices that seasonal workers make for their families and their isolation from their communities for years, as well as their pursuit for justice and safety in the workplace. The title track, Bread and Roses (Bret Mo Roses) is an old union song that has been adapted by the women to reflect their own fight for respect.

Caterina Ciananni, Executive Director of the United Workers Union, standing on stage and speaking into a microphone during her speech at the Semaphore Workers Club's at Bread and Roses event. She is wearing glasses, a white t-shirt with various prints, and dark jeans. A drum set is partially visible in the background, along with other decorative items.

During her speech at the Semaphore Workers Club event, Caterina Cinanni, executive director of the United Workers Union, emphasised the urgency of their fight for change. “The Perfection 12 are brave women fighting for justice, respect, and safety not just for themselves, but for every single woman working in that glasshouse. Perfection Fresh is the wealthiest and largest tomato glasshouse corporation in Australia.”

Abbey Kendall, director of Working Women’s Centre, underscored the importance of safe workplaces for all workers “Seasonal work must be safe, regardless of their background, identity, or job type. That is the benchmark of Australian workplace laws,” she added. 

As the Perfection 12 continue their legal battle, supporters can amplify their message by spreading awareness and advocating for accountability from companies like Perfection Fresh. The Bread and Roses album serves as a testament to their resilience and determination, inspiring solidarity, and action among all who seek justice in the workplace.

 

The image displays the lyrics of "BREAD AND ROSES" prominently in bold, capitalized letters at the top. Beneath the title, the word "ENGLISH" specifies the language of the following lyrics. The lyrics read: “As we go marching, marching, our home so far away, a million darkened fields, glasshouses dim and grey, are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses, for the people hear us singing: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

For more information on how to support the Perfection 12 and their campaign, visit Bread and Roses – Full Album – Rotten Perfection

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Working Women’s Centre SA Leaders Present at Senate Inquiry on Costs Protection Bill

Abbey Kendall, the Director of the Working Women’s Centre SA, and Caitlin Feehan, lawyer with the Centre, travelled to Canberra on Wednesday (31) to represent the organisation at the Senate Inquiry held at Parliament House. Their purpose was to provide evidence concerning the Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (Costs Protection) Bill 2023.

Abbey Kendall and Caitlin Feehan

 

The passage of this bill would eliminate the financial risk for women who have experienced sexual harassment and/or discrimination of having to pay the legal costs of their employer when pursuing their claims in the Federal Court. The current financial risk with taking these types of matters to Court is a known deterrent for women when considering whether to pursue their matters past unsuccessful conciliation. By this Bill being passed, it would provide certainty for women to pursue their matters without risking their long-term economic security.

Great work to all the organisations that attended the Senate Inquiry yesterday in support of this important proposed law reform!

Please click here to access the complete transcript of the Senate Inquiry on the Costs Protection Bill hearing.

 

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Abbey Kendall, the Director of the Working Women's Centre SA, presented at the Senate Inquiry on the Costs Protection Bill hearing.

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