Women's Conference

Changing the rules for working women

Female employees who are union members are paid significantly more than their non union female peers at an extra 25.4% on average.

IEU Women’s Conference participants walked away inspired and empowered by the speakers and workshops they were exposed to on 24 August.

Conference Convener Pam Smith highlighted the importance of a change of rules for working women, hence the conference title Changing the Rules for Working Women and for Our Students in their Future Workplaces.

These rules could relate to the number of women in casual or temporary positions in schools, the preponderance of women in insecure work in the general community, the lack of women in leadership rules, the pay gap, and the fact that women often end up with less superannuation than men and face a less secure retirement as a result.

In his introduction IEU NSW/ACT Branch Secretary John Quessy highlighted the IEU’s attempts to gain fairer pay for early childhood teachers because “it is absolutely the right thing to do”.

“The rules that set pay and conditions are broken. We, all of us, need to change them. The IEU will do its part in that struggle,” Quessy said.

“For many in this room the broken industrial rules are your lived experience. We must change the rules.”

Keynote speaker Ros McLennan, General Secretary Queensland Council of Unions, gave a comprehensive overview of women’s current status in the workforce and what needs to change.

“Despite the many female, kick arse pocket rockets go getters out there, just waiting to change the world, or at least their organisations, for the better, equal representation leadership positions, let alone equal pay, still hasn’t happened in most workplaces,” McLennan said.

“I’ll give you an example about the need for quotas as it applies to women on boards. Did you know there are 17 companies in the ASX200 that have no boards women on their boards – in fact there are more men called Peter on the boards of their companies than there are women on those boards entirely.

McLennan said the profile of a modem unionist is female, professional and working in the private sector.

She said the pay gap between women in unions and non union women is huge.

“Female employees who are union members are paid significantly more than their non union female peers at an extra 25.4% on average.”

Keynote speaker Naomi Steer, National Director for UNHCR, introduced the global perspective to the situation of women and girls around the world, as well as telling participants about her own ground breaking story as one of the first woman diplomats.

Steer describes how the vital work of the UNHCR is mainly supported by donations from every day Australians. These donations provide for simple interventions like clean birthing kits for mothers fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This country also has one of the highest incidences of sexual assault in the world, with two thirds of all women experiencing sexual violence.

She agreed that there needed to be a change of rules for all women, and that women from around the world could gain strength by coming together and sharing their common goals.

Angela Briant, General Secretary IEUA WA Branch described McLennan as ‘a powerhouse of union women’.

“How right she was – a day spent in the company of a group of focussed, determined and collegial union women is inspirational and reinvigorating,” Briant said.

“Ros provided some very useful tips on what is needed to win, whether its’ a living wage, the right to access the independent umpire or job security for casual employees – they are supporters, strategy, trust/integrity and resilience.

“Naomi Steer National Director of UNHCR informed us that 100,000 individual Australians donated $35 million to UNHCR for international humanitarian programs for the United Nations Refugee Agency. I found her presentation to be so informative and hopeful. One action we women can do to show support for refugees is make contact with a new arrival and see if we can help them in some small ways. That personal connection makes so much difference to a new arrival.

“The workshop choice decision was a hard one to make and I opted for Teaching the millennial student and Enhancing women’s wellbeing and fitness. Both excellent choices and I went away with in the first instance with more understanding of the environment that’s formed the attitudes of young teachers entering the profession and from the second workshop I have some practical techniques to help establish healthier diet and lifestyle habits.”