International Women’s Day – International Women’s Day (8 March) is an occasion marked by women’s groups around the world. International Womens Day Address 8 March 2005, By Sharan Burrow, ACTU President and President of the global unions body ICFTU.
From the turn of the century women in industrially developing countries were
entering the paid workforce in increasing numbers. They found employment in the
textile manufacturing and domestic service industries where conditions were poor
and wages low.
In march 1908 women workers (machinists) from the International Garment
Workers Unions took to the streets of New York in protest.
In 1909 the garment workers staged a national strike that lasted for 13
It was of course formally recognised in 1977 by the United Nations and is
designated in many countries as a national holiday for women.
However International Women’s Day is the story of ordinary women as makers of
history; its campaigns and its celebrations are rooted in the centuries-old
struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men.
When women on all continents, often divided by national boundaries and by
ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences, come together
to celebrate their Day, they can look back to a tradition that represents at
least nine decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development.
In ancient Greece, Lysistrata initiated a sexual strike against men in order
to end war; during the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for “liberty,
equality, fraternity” marched on Versailles to demand women’s suffrage.
Following is a brief history of the most important events:
1909: In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of
America, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on
28 February and marked the struggle of garment workers.
1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established
a Women’s Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women’s
rights and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women.
1911: IWD was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria,
Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men
attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office,
they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to
discrimination on the job.
Less than a week later, on 25 March, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York
City took the lives of more than 140 working girls, most of them Italian and
Jewish immigrants. This event had a significant impact on labour laws in the
1917: With 2 million Russian soldiers dead in the war, Russian women
chose the last Sunday in February to strike for “bread and peace”. Four days
after the strike the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government
granted women the right to vote. That historic Sunday fell on 23 February on the
Julian calendar then in use in Russia, but on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar
in use elsewhere.
There is in fact a century of history to add as new national struggles are
launched every year on this day across the globe.
Thus the solidarity that has connected women’s struggle for fairness
across the globe remains as relevant today as it has in previous centuries.
From my experience on the ICFTU and the ILO – including the Global
Commission for International Migration — key issues facing women
But looking more closely at home to the situation of women in Australia
Let’s begin with a topic close to your hearts – retirement
incomes for women.
Differences in retirement outcomes for women caused by:
in retirement to supplement Age Pension.
These differences lead to a ‘super savings gap’ for
pre-retirement earnings before tax, women need an extra super contribution of at
least 5.6% (for young working women) and as much as 34.3% for women who are in
their late 50s.
SG) at more than twice the level of men.
Why have these inequalities in retirement savings occurred?
Women experience higher levels of job insecurity, casualisation and lower
wages than their male colleagues:
million women. This is a situation that can only get worse with one in every two
new full time jobs created since 1996 being casual and 80% of part-time jobs
Low paid jobs:
half (114000) paid less than $500 a week.
employees — earning less than $660 a week, or less than $34,000 a
Unequal pay for women
women – the gap between men and women has worsened.
hourly rates of pay compared to full time employees, the reduction for women in
their hourly pay has been four times that of men.
This year, the Howard Government intends to embark on the most radical
changes to our workplace laws since federation.
The harmful nature and full extent of these changes is starting to become
For despite the enormity of the changes due to be wrought on the fundamental
institutions that govern the relations between capital and labour in Australia,
there is to be no genuine process of public consultation.
In the short term, the laws already before Parliament and set to be passed
this year include:
many of whom working in regional and rural areas.
and without notice.
as it sends a message to bad employers that they can do what they like and their
staffs have little recourse.
Redundancy pay exemption
a two-tiered workforce where a person’s rights and entitlements will
depend on an arbitrary definition of company size.
in unions providing help and information at workplaces
is set to be passed that could make it practically impossible for employees to
access information and help from a union at their workplace.
representative – for example in a room or area where they can be seen or
over-heard by their manager or employer.
or breach of their conditions will be required to be identified to their
employer – even if they fear retribution for raising the issue
There are many instances where union organisers help head off a major
workplace problem such as an instance of harassment or inadvertent
This helpful role by union, as well as the access of employees to someone who
can stand by them and help resolve a problem, is likely to be compromised by the
new right of entry restrictions laws.
Again, women who are vulnerable to exploitation I the workplace will lose
This brings me to the major set of workplace changes that are expected in the
latter part of the year once the Government gains full control of the Parliament
post 1 July.
In the last few weeks, the Government has clearly signalled it will:
1. Make a hostile takeover of State industrial systems.
stripped down to the barest minimum set of wages and
be eliminated are:
superannuation choice environment that employees will be hoodwinked into putting
their super into funds with excessive admin fees and charges.
structure of minimum wages into a single minimum wage rate. This is a
short-sighted move that would destroy incentives for low paid workers to acquire
skills and would add to the current skills and labour crisis that is already
causing major economic damage.
pay gap between men and women. For example, the childcare workers pay case
– handed down earlier this year. Also, in the past the NSW librarians
a job so that it can be compared relative to other jobs internally and
externally to other occupations.
2. Scrap the role of the independent umpire in setting minimum wages and
fairly settling disputes.
Costello are clearly considering a scheme whereby they would not only appoint
their own minimum wages ‘expert group’, but would then have the final say over
the expert group’s recommendations.
would control the pay packets of the 1.5 million hotel workers, cleaners,
waiters, bar attendants; sales assistants and other Australians that are reliant
on minimum wages.
pay rise or would get much less than they do under the current ‘independent
umpire’ system run by the AIRC.
wages sought by the ACTU and if it had had its way, then workers on the minimum
wage would be more than $2,200 a year worse off than they are
the current, politically independent, system of setting minimum wages and to
correct misleading statements the Employment Minister has recently made about
the role of the AIRC.
nobbled AIRC how test cases such as the Work and Family case would be
3. Other changes likely include a renewed push towards individual
contracts — AWAs.
people’s wages and conditions just last week in Victoria.
A group of mothers have launched a court challenge against their sackings
from a Victorian mushroom farm after they refused to sign up to a 25% pay cut
under the Federal Government’s individual contracts, Australian Workplace
The six women were the only members of Merbein’s workforce of about 45
who refused to sign the individual contracts. The new contracts cut their pay by
an average of around $150 per week, or more than 25%. The AWAs replace hourly
pay rates with a “piece” rate of 55 cents for each kilogram of
mushrooms picked by the workers.
Some of the women have worked for the company as mushroom pickers for nearly
eight years, but were classified as “casuals” and have received less
than $1,000 in termination pay.
“Nearly all the sacked women have children to support. They are
hard-working mothers in a difficult industry with serious occupational health
and safety issues. Their only ‘crime’ was to refuse to sign an
individual contract. Everyone else who signed the contracts kept their jobs, but
have suffered significant pay cuts.”
a path that cheapens Australian workers rather than investing in them and their
can’t win – the Government should be building Australia’s
economic security by investing in skills and infrastructure.
and opportunities for women and our families – not a government that is
constantly interfering in the workplace and unfairly siding with
where you will work harder and longer for less.
What the Government’s plans will mean for families is longer working
hours and less security. How can you plan a future when you can’t rely on
You can’t make people’s pay, employment conditions and jobs less
secure without having a negative impact on families.
We already know the difficulties facing women with children because of
financial pressures – high mortgages and housing costs, lack of access to
child care and the pressure of work today.
The changes they propose will also weaken communities because fewer people
will be able to commit to time outside work.
Workplace policy is more critical than even to families. In 1981 more than
half (53%) of couple families with children had one partner working and one at
home. By 2000 this had reduced to 34% and most couples with children 60% had
both parents working and this trend shows no sign of slowing.
But even the Governments own Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward has said
the Government’s IR laws will put more pressure on families.
Pru Goward is also facing the possible consequences of a campaign from ACCI
to erode the SDA by eliminating the concept of “indirect
discrimination”. This too requires our attention.
Women and work
Women and retirement savings
Need to focus on getting more contributions in for women and to reduce the
drains on what savings they have through:
1. Super funds to provide discount on admin fees during non-contribution periods (e.g. care-related unpaid leave periods)
2. Employers to provide super contributions during unpaid leave periods
3. Government to:
— e.g 30% super contribution tax exceeds marginal income tax rate
— with tight controls on predatory practices
Women and the economy
In the face of these challenges, we have a Government that is so focussed on
their own narrow agenda that it is ignoring some of the economic fundamentals
and this can only make matters worse for women.
standing as an advanced economy.
2005 – The report is not a healthy one in regard to equity for women.
If we are to protect gains, including the Sex Discrimination Act and a fair IR
system then our voices need to be raised in unison right now for a fair deal.
Anne Summers says we have living through the death of equality. Ordinary women
have fought to changed history throughout the centuries – our daughters
and grand daughters demand no less of us.
International Women’s Day Address – 8 March 2005, By Sharan
Burrow, ACTU President and President of the global unions body –