Changes at the workplace are impacting unfairly on many women workers says Susan Kenna, ACTU Research Officer.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this Conference.
I’m here to share some of the concerns of the union movement regarding changes at the workplace which we believe are impacting unfairly on many women workers.
The increase in precarious employment in Australia is amongst the highest of any OECD country and changes in working time over the last decade have resulted in a radical shift fom the standard model of a 38 hour, full time week, to encompass a diversity of new working time arrangements. These two development combined have had a large impact on areas of women’s employment.
My experience of the practical effects of these changes is twofold. Firstly, my work at the ACTU Trust (the union services arm of the ACTU) has recently involved involved supervision of the ACTU Workers’ Line – a telephone based service which takes calls from workers (union members and non-members) and provides advice and referral on a range of industrial matters. The overwhelming majority of our calls are from women – often young women – working in the hospitality and retail industries and in small business. These workers are more likely to be precariously employed, to work sporadic hours in unregulated workplaces, and sadly, to be non-unionised.
The experience of callers to the Workers’ Line was reinforced to me late last year during my period assisting the ACTU research staff in preparing the Living Wage Case. Whilst collecting witness evidence from low paid workers for the ACTU case, we were appalled by the discrepancy between the skills and experience of workers in low paid jobs such as child care, gardening and hospitality occupations, and their inability to earn a living wage. Working time was particularly an issue for these witnesses who were increasingly expected to do more work, with diminishing resources and reduced hours.
The second area of experience I wish to discuss today involves the case studies and research I conducted for my Masters Thesis in Industrial Relations. Having worked with home care workers during my time with the main Victorian Local Government union, the Australian Services Union (ASU), I focussed my thesis on the effects of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) of local government services on these workers.
The issues of working time and forms of employment are intrinsically linked to the earning capacity of home care workers in the new competitive environment. The findings of the case studies in three councils reflect a bleak future for workers in female dominated, service industries and raise the question of the appropriateness of subjecting such industries to competition in the first place.
Each of these experiences bares the hallmark of the new flexibility and begs the question, flexibility for whom? Women in the union movement are clear that the beneficiaries of this new flexibility are not women workers themselves.
Research across several industries indicates that women are increasingly experiencing precarious employment and unpredictable changes in working time which leave them vulnerable to reduced wages, less time with their families and increased work intensity.
This paper seeks to provide a brief overview of current developments in forms of employment and working time in Australia. I will address some recent research examining the effects of the new flexibility on women, with specific reference to my own findings for home care workers in local government.
Finally, I discuss some of the options for unions as they seek to address the problems arising from changes in employment and working time.
2. Defining, Flexibility and Precarious Employment
What do we mean by flexibility in the new industrial relations environment? The term is often used by the current conservative Government to invoke the image of “choice”; for example, choice is the main selling-point of the Government’s changes to superannuation funds. In respect of industrial relations, the Government is keen to promote the choice of employers to run their enterprises, largely as they see fit.
This is reflected in the objectives of the Government’s industrial relations legislation; for example s. 3(a) of the Workplace Relations Act refers to pursuit of “high employment, improved living standards, low inflation and international competitiveness through higher productivity and a flexible and fair labour marker. Ss. 3(b) & (c) reflect the Government’s commitment to the marginalisation of unions, collective bargaining and centralised wage fixing – encouraging the making of decisions about workplace matters and agreements between employers and employees, at the workplace level. In this context, flexibility generally means increasing managerial prerogative – giving the employer the opportunity to make quick decisions to promote the most cost effective means of using resources – including human resources – to maximum affect. In itself, this seems to be a benign objective. However, in encouraging a new flexibility at the workplace, the Act is designed to undermine the safeguards traditionally provided by Australia’s industrial relations system.
These safeguards include centralised wage fixing and the making of comprehensive minimum awards, the role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the role of unions. For nearly a century, these minimum features of Australia’s system provided protection for those who have little choice, flexibility or bargaining power. Many women workers in low paid, precarious employment fall into this category.
The advent of 20 “allowable matters” in the legislation (s. 89A(2)) is also intended to provide flexibility. Aside from the 20 core issues in awards, employers and employees are for all intents and purposes free to negotiate conditions over and above these minimums, to suit their workplace needs. The reality is that many workers in low bargaining industries – again those dominated by women workers – will lose the protections afforded by the previously comprehensive award system.
Sara Charlesworth has defined the new flexibility in respect of working time as “employer-oriented flexibility” (Charlesworth, 1996). From her research in several industries it is clear that women workers are often experiencing changes in working time at the discretion of management, in order to provide more flexibility. This despite the existence of “on-paper” agreements on hours of work.
Flexibility also encompasses flexible forms of employment. The most flexible of these is casual employment. A true casual employee is precariously employed. They do not receive paid leave entitlements or regular hours, are paid by the hour, work intermittently and have no job security. Under the Workplace Relations Act an employee is deemed to be casual and therefore not protected by unfair dismissal provisions, if they are employed for less than 12 months (Regulation 30 (B)).
By distinction, part-time workers should be permanent employees who work regular hours and receive all the entitlements of full-time workers, on a pro rata basis. However, many part-time workers are de facto casuals, and are themselves precariously employed. This is reflected in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition of a part-time employee. The ABS defines a part-time employee as anyone employed for less than 35 hours per week; this definition covers part-time workers who are both casual and permanent.
Casual workers are defined by the Bureau as those workers who do not receive annual or long service leave; they may be full-time or part-time (Catalogue 6334.0).
The current diversity in forms of employment significantly extends the categories of employees which may be deemed to be precariously employed. The Government’s proposal to exempt workers in small businesses (and now apprentices) from unfair dismissal protections, may also render these workers precariously employed.
However, for the purposes of this paper the term “precariously employed” refers to casual workers and those workers deemed to be part-time, who are in fact without job security or career prospects.
3. The Growth in Precarious Employment and Changes in Working Time
We are all aware of the increased participation by women in the labour force.
- women’s labour force participation across Australia has increased from 36.6% in 1966 to 53.4% at June 1997 (ABS 6203)
- in Victoria the female participation rate stood at 54.3% at June 1997;(the male participation rate is 73.2%).
- Most of the increase in the female share of employment has been in part-time and casual work (the figures below are totals for Australia
- the rise in female share of full-time employment has been slight, increasing from 22.3% in 1965 to a 25% share in 1996
- there has been a rise in the share of male part-time employment from 2.5% in 1965 to 6.5% in 1996;
- the rise in the share of female part-time employment is significant, from only 6.5% in 1965 to 18.1% in 1996 – the female part-time share in 1965 is the same as the male part-time share in 1996.
Australia has one of the highest levels of part-time and casual work in the OECD.
- The part-time share of total employment in Australia was 24.8% in 1995, compared with an OECD average of 17.9%.
- The permanent part-time share of total employment in Victoria at August 1996 was 21.9% (ABS 6325)
- The female share of permanent part-time employment in Victoria at this time was 72.8%
- The casual share of total employment in Victoria at August 1996 was 19.1%
- The female share of casual employment in Victoria was lower than for permanent part-timers, at 52.4%
Women’s jobs tend to be segmented in low paid, lowly unionised inquiries which are characterised by precarious employment.
- At February, 1997, the two largest industries in Victoria were manufacturing and Retail trade – together making up 32% of all employed persons (ABS 6202.2)
- The top 4 industries for female employment in Victoria at this time were:
1. Retail Trade (17.3%)
2. Health and Community Services (16.3%)
3. Manufacturing (10.8%)
4. Property and Business Services (10.1%)
As we know, many women working in Victorian manufacturing are employed in the textile, clothing and footwear industry, often as outworkers in an under-regulated, low paid sector of the TCF industry.
The effects of the growth in precarious employment are compounded by changes in working time arrangements.
A recent ACTU review of research on working time arrangements found that the standard working week is no longer a reality for many working Australians. Many workers are working too many hours (often unpaid) while for others, there is not enough work. From data collected by the ABS in 1995, only 36.5% of the labour force (3.2 million workers) were working a standard working week. Other data demonstrated that:
- of the 2.6 million people working overtime, only 0.9 million worked paid overtime (10.3%) of the labour force;
- of the 2 million part-time workers, 1.5 million were happy working part-time whilst.58 million wanted to work more hours (6.5% of the labour force) (ACTU, 1997a).
4. The Implications For Women Workers
Changes in working time arrangements have been prominent in formal enterprise bargaining agreements. In 1995, hours arrangements were the issue most likely to be included in an enterprise agreement, with 65% of agreements containing some form of hours of work provision (DIR, 1996).
These provisions included:
- provisions for total hours;
- flexible working hours;
- meal breaks;
- rostered days off;
- span of hours;
- rest breaks;
- overtime and
- shift work.
The (then) Department of Industrial Relations found that increases in hours through enterprise bargaining had occurred in industries dominated by women. For example:
- 36% of workers in education had experienced an increase in hours;
- 33% of workers in accommodation, cafes and restaurants, and
- 31% of workers in cultural and recreational services.
Significantly, where women workers had experienced increases in hours as a result of bargaining, they were less likely than men to have received a commensurate increase in wages.
These findings reflect those of researchers such as Sara Charlesworth and Belinda Probert who have both found that women in service industries such as hospitality and retail are often losing income, despite increases in hours and expectations of increased flexibility (Charlesworth, 1996; Probert, 1995).
Charlesworth’s examination of changes in working time in six industries uncovered new forms of management-defined flexibility. Though formal collective enterprise agreements had been negotiated in the case study industries, “there appeared to be a reintroduction of managerial discretion in the way an individual’s hours were organised” (Charlesworth, 1996; p. 11).
New working time arrangements were also linked to forms of employment. Charlesworth identified the emergence of a new “flexible part-time worker” who had their previously regular hours altered without notice, on an ad hoc basis. Though still theoretically permanent employees, these workers were increasingly experiencing the uncertainties associated with casual work.
This flexibility required of women workers created an increase in work intensity, difficulty in balancing work and family responsibilities, and a reluctance to work unsocial hours without notice or increases in pay. Of significance were Charlesworth’s findings in respect of the impact of the new flexibility on pay equity; she concluded that:
- female-dominated workplaces in service industries had less to “trade – off’ through bargaining in respect of working time;
- there was no apparent relationship between the quantum of wage increases and “trade-offs” in working time;
- the expansion of the span of hours in some cases and the reduction in penalty rates impacted on the take home pay of the workers, and undercut the potential for award classifications and competency standards to be used for the achievement of equal pay for equal work; that is, the work itself was in danger of being undervalued, and
- in many instances, casual and part-time women workers were excluded from the bargaining process due to an inability to choose appropriate meeting times and methods of consultation.
Home Care Workers in Victorian Local Government
My recent research into the effects of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) on home care workers reveals that these workers have been unable to participate in enterprise bargaining in any real form. The process of council amalgamations in Victoria in 1994/95 and the introduction of CCT in 1994, have overtaken the industry to such a degree that genuine workplace reform has not been achieved through enterprise bargaining. Instead, many local government workers have been forced to tender to provide services in the new competitive environment. For home care workers, this has so far meant a reduction in wages and conditions of employment.
The Victorian Local Government Home Care Service is unique to the state. Home carers provide general, personal and respite care for the aged and disabled, and their families, in their homes. Around 98% of home care workers in local government are women, and the majority work on a permanent part-time basis.
From the late 1980’s to mid 90’s, the Australian Services Union achieved significant gains for home care workers, primarily through the process of award restructuring. In 1986, the union achieved pay increases for home care workers through the conduct of work value case in the Industrial Relations Commission. In the early 1990’s, a comprehensive skills analysis of these workers was conducted in order to inform the award restructuring process. When the restructured Local Government Award was finalised in 1991, home care workers achieved pay increases which reflected recognition of their skills and responsibility, and improved their place in the award classification structure, relative to other male-dominated occupations in local government.
In 1994 the Kennett Government introduced compulsory competitive tendering to Victorian councils, giving councils the freedom to choose services to be put to tender. In many respects, this was radical legislation – taking competition even further than the Thatcher Government had over almost two decades of CCT in the UK; Thatcher had specifically exempted community services from tendering, recognising the specific qualities of caring occupations, the skills of council home carers and the needs of local communities.
At May, 1998 72 of 78 Victorian councils had put their home care services through a tendering process, however, 67 of these councils continue to provide services through the council home care workforce. Nevertheless, in submitting in-house tenders, workers have been forced to take cuts in pay and allowances in order to be “competitive” – that is, provide a cheaper tender bid. This despite the fact that there is a minimal competition from private sector home care providers.
In my research, I studies the tendering processes and outcomes at three Victorian councils, two of which continue to provide services through in-house home care teams, and one which contracted-out service provision to the main private sector competitor – which I have called the “Home Care Company”.
Across each of the councils, workers have given up pay and conditions and at the council where the Home Care Company now provides the service, workers who transferred to the Company have experienced the greatest reductions in earnings.
My research focussed on three main changes resulting from CCT:
- rates of pay
- hours of work, and
- skills, training and career paths
At the council where home care was contracted out, there were reductio in hourly rates of pay and at all three councils, overall earnings where down as a result of cuts in penalty rates. Two of the three councils had compressed the classification structure from three levels to two – limiting future earnings and career development.
The case studies also revealed significant changes in forms of employment and an increase in precarious employment.
At each of the councils, the span of ordinary hours had increased and there had been a commensurate decrease in penalty rates. As a result, specific home care workers (those providing personal care to the disabled) who generally work outside standard hours, had experienced the greatest pay cuts. Specific care workers at the one council where contracting-out had occurred, were significantly worse off than those in the other two councils, because of the additional cut in the hourly rate of pay.
Loss of earnings from changes in hours of work were compounded by either the abolition or reduction of travel allowances, including payment for travel time. This had affected quality of service as carers felt that they stayed on for the obligatory cup of tea, at the risk of upsetting the next client and their own schedules.
It is clear from the case studies that the new flexibility required in hours has disadvantaged the workers. At each of the councils, hours of work have become more sporadic. Workers have had to work additional hours in order to make up for the lost income resulting from cuts to penalty rates and the increased spread of ordinary hours. There has also been an increase in split – shifts 0 making it difficult for carers to plan their leisure time or meet their personal commitment on the days where they may have one shift in the morning and another in the afternoon or evening.
Two of the councils were finding it hard to attract experienced workers on weekends due to the reductions in penalty rates.
Another factor to emerge from the case studies is the increase in precarious employment. At the council where home care is provided by the privately run Home Care Company the casualisation of the workforce had increased considerably, and at one of the other case study councils all new workers will receive a higher hourly rate and forgo paid leave entitlements, effectively deeming them casuals employees. Though management at both of these councils argued that the workers were considered permanent (and in many cases, they were working a consistent number of hours), these workers have no effective job security or protection under the federal industrial legislation.
The case study findings reflect the finding of the research into competitive tendering currently being conducted by Victoria University of Technology. The researchers at VUT also found a reduction in the number of full-time staff within their sample councils, and an increase in casual employment amongst women (VUT, 1997).
These findings have implication for home care workers which go beyond their immediate earning capacity. For instance, the arrangements negotiated as part of home care local agreements compress the classification structure which was “unpacked” during the award restructuring process. New banding arrangement do not reflect the skills, knowledge and responsibility identified as part of the Union’s skills analysis project, as reflected in the 1991 Award.
They therefore limit the career path and earnings potential of home care workers, and create pay inequity by shifting the relativity of home care to other local government occupations. The new classification and salary arrangements undermine the perceived work value of home care work and thereby the future chances of achieving equal pay.
There may be a case for arguing that the CCT process has discriminated on the basis of gender. Why have home care workers lost out overall more than their colleagues in other local government occupations?
Part of the answer lies in the nature of the work itself. There has never been a time in the history of local government home care provision at which the Union has been able to consolidate the gains in the wages and conditions of home care workers. Consequently, home care workers are an “easy target” when times are tough.
Home care workers are not as industrially active as the highly unionised blue-collar sector of local government; refuse workers, construction and maintenance and parks and gardens employees have always been able to exert more pressure on Union policy and at the negotiating table. Home care workers are not as readily able to be organised. Their casual and part-time employment, geographic isolation from council offices and non-standard hours of work make it difficult for either the Union or their councils to address their needs. These characteristics of their employment make home care workers more vulnerable to the flexibilities imposed by CCT. Being asked to increase their hours or provide more flexibility in employment is not such a radical shift for these workers. Home care workers are seen (and to a large extent are) amenable to flexibility – their clients come first. Though they should be compensated for these changes, the tight funding of home care services and the already variable nature of their hours of work make it difficult to negotiate creative solutions such as annualised salaries or restructured work loads. In essence, the already efficient nature of home care services means that there are fewer options for maintaining conditions. It may be argued that home care workers cannot physically clean a home or attend to the myriad needs of their clients any more efficiently. Rates of pay, conditions of employment and the workers themselves are seen as the only sources of increased flexibility.
This approach to tendering can be judged harshly when we consider that the workers are winning most of the home care contracts to this point. It is ironic that in some of the male dominated areas of local government such as refuse collection, recycling, and parks and gardens there are many private sector competitors with a history of winning local government contracts. In home care, where competition is scarce, the workers are worse off than their male colleagues despite their dominance of the home care market.
5. What can Union do?
Th union movement clearly has responsibility to address the issues of increased precarious employment and detrimental changes in working time. Unions and the ACTU are not opposed to casual and part-time employment, however we must ensure that these forms of employment continue to be distinguished from each other, that workers in part-time employment have a guaranteed and consistent income and of course, that union membership and activity increases in areas of employment dominated by women in part-time and casual work.
Though evidence suggest that many part-time workers would like more work, the new flexibility in working hours is clearly problematic. When combined with changeable working time arrangements, casual and part-time work can be detrimental to both income security and workers’ leisure time.
The deregulation of part-time work through the allowable matters provisions in the Workplace Relations Act could mean less certainty for women workers, who are in danger of becoming de facto casuals with less secure income and no guaranteed hours of employment.
How do we ensure that workers employed on a casual, part-time or short-term contract basis have:
- access to a secure and stable income;
- access for part-time workers to conditions of employment commensurate with those available for full-time workers;
- agreements regarding minimum and consistent hours of work for part-time workers; and
- a clear distinction between casual and part-time work?
How can we guarantee that the new flexibility required of workers through changing working time arrangements, does not disadvantage women workers?
DIR estimates that 42% of workers covered by Federal enterprise agreements are women (DIR 1996). The stripping back of award provisions through allowable matters puts the emphasis on collective bargaining as the most effective means of protecting women workers.
Enterprise agreements need to reflect the needs of women workers. Though there is evidence that family leave provisions are on the increase through bargaining, their potential benefits are often “cancelled-out” by increased hours of work and flexible working arrangements (DIR, 1996).
Bargaining must be broadened to include issues affecting female-dominated industries and not covered by allowable award matters. These should include:
- provisions relating to regular hours of work, notice periods and pro rata conditions for part-time workers;
- provisions which clearly distinguish casual from part-time work, and adequately compensate true casual workers for the irregular nature of their work;
- equal pay provisions which protect women workers from inequities in overaward payments and allowances;
- paid training leave provisions for training which is accessible during working hours, and which is clearly linked to skills development and career progression for all workers;
- comprehensive equal opportunity provisions which protect workers from discrimination in recruitment, promotion and training selection and which provide clear procedures for dealing with discrimination and harassment issues; and
- extending carer’s and family leave provisions to suit the needs of the workforce, including the use of other forms of leave for use as personal leave, and consideration of paid parental leave entitlements.
In order to attract women members, unions must demonstrate their understanding of the issues which characterise areas of female –dominated employment, and convince women of their on-going commitment to broader issues affecting their lives. The recent community child care campaign is a strong example of a broad social, industrial and political issue in which unions can take the lead on behalf of workers and the broader community.
- develop appropriate forms of representation for women in the workplace, including local union delegates and women’s networks;
- develop organising models based on the specific needs of the industries and occupations where women predominate;
- address the needs of women workers through collective bargaining, considering both bargaining outcomes and an inclusive process of bargaining;
- publicise and build-on the many benefits achieved through women, but unions; for example, parental and carers leave, representation over forms of discrimination and harassment, equal pay and child care provision; and
- develop specific recruitment and retention campaigns involving research of specific industries or occupations, worker surveys and priority issues for organising.
The ACTU is keen to ensure that certain safeguards are in place to protect part-time workers from inconsistent hours and income.
The recent decision of the Full Bench regarding allowable matters for the Hospitality Industry Award, made it clear that awards will be varied on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances of the industry involved [Print P7500]. Unions must produce evidence of the specific requirements of those precariously employed in their industries, in order to secure appropriate award provisions.
In the Hospitality Industry, the union believes that the allowable matters decision has increased certainty of hours for part-time workers and this decision bides well for the application of part-time work provisions in the legislation. The previous Hospitality Award had two categories of part-time worker – a “flexible” part-time worker (who received a 10% loading) and a specific part-time workers. The new provisions guarantee certainty of hours for part-time workers in this industry – deleting the category of flexible part-time worker, which was ostensibly another category of causal employment. A definition of a “regular part-time employee” is to be inserted in the Award.
Nevertheless, award protection may no longer be enough. The major challenge for unions is to incorporate issues relating to precarious employment and the new flexibility into long-term policies which will assist women workers. We must meaningfully contribute to the increasing community debate on overwork and the rising gap between low and high income earners, and unions must implement their own industry specific strategies. Finally, we must continue to attract more women to unions.
Speech by Susan Kenna, Research Officer, ACTU Trust. Bendigo Woman and Work Conference, LaTrobe University, Bendigo. Sunday 2 August 1998.
Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training, 1996, Reforming Working Time: Alternatives to Unemployment, Casualisation and Excessive Hours, Report for the Brotherhood of St Lawrence,
Brotherhood of St. Lawrence, Fitzroy Victoria
Australian Council of Trade Unions, 1997a, Discussion Paper on Working Time, D39/1997, ACTU Melbourne
Australian Council of Trade Union, 1997b, Living Wage 1997/98: Speaking Notes, D 146/1997, ACTU, Melbourne.
Campbell, I, 1996, Casual Employment, Labour Regulation and Australian Trade Unions, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 38, No.4, December.
Charlesworth, Sara, 1996, Stretching Flexibility: enterprise bargaining, women workers and changes to working hours, Report of the Flexible Working Hours and Women Project, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, October, 1996, Sydney.
Department of Industrial Relations, 1996, Enterprise Bargaining in Australia – 1995 Annual Report, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Ernst, J., Glanville, L., & Murfitt, P., 1997, Breaking the Contract: The Implementation of Compulsory Competitive Tendering Policy in Victoria, Outer Urban Research and Policy Unit, Victoria University of Technology, Melbourne.
Kenna, S, 1993, Skilled Work: A Skills Analysis of Community Services Workers, Women’s Bureau , Department of Employment, Education and Training, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Kenna, S, 1998, The Cost of Caring: Compulsory Competitive Tendering and Victorian Home Care Workers, (unpublished thesis), Master of Industrial and Employees Relations, Key Centre for Industrial Relations, Monash University, Melbourne.
Probert, B, 1995, Part Time Work and Managerial Strategy: Flexibility in the New Industrial Relations Framework, WREIP, Department of Employment, Education and Training, Canberra.
Speech by Susan Kenna, Research Officer, ACTU Trust. Bendigo Women and Work Conference, Sunday 2 August 1998.
 The term “living wage” has recently been used as the basis of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) National Wage claims. The term is based on a modemised version of criteria used by Justice Higgin’s to form the basic wage in the Harvesterjudgement of 1907 [Ex parte BN MacKay (1907) 2 CAR 1). The Basic Wage was determined on the basis of the “needs” of a worker, as defined by factors such as food, clothing, housing etc. In the Living Wage Cases of 1996 – 1999, the ACTU has argued that a living wage is one in which the needs of the low paid are met, to “generally prevailing community standards”; (see ACTU, 1997b).
 The ASU has been able to take a different approach to tenders involving parks and gardens workers, resulting in the maintenance of these workers’ allowances and over-award payments. In order to win tenders in these areas, the Union has accepted the voluntary redundancy of some members and then tendered for contracts based on a smaller (and therefore cheaper) core workforce. Additional contract workers are brought in on a seasonal basis as required, to complete specific tasks. Work can be organised around seasonal requirements; there is flexibility in the work itself and fluctuations in demand can be managed For home carre workers, the demands of an increasingly frail elderly popoulation creates inflexibility and continual pressure.
 In the United Kingdom, equal pay legislation has been used to challenge the disadvantage imposed on a female doinated area of council employment as a result of competitive tendering. Female catering workers, (known as “dinner ladies”) had their pay reduced in order to compete for catering contracts in schools. Their jobs had previusly been valued as equal to male-dominated jobs in councils (such as road sweepers, gardeners and refuse collectors). The case went as far as the House of Lords, who found that the discrimination was in conflict with the Equal Pay Act, and could not be justified on the grounds of commercial arguments; (Ratcliffe and ors., v North Yorkshire Country Council,  3 AII ER 597).