Speech delivered at the 20th Women, Management and Employment Relations Conference.

Sharan Burrow discusses a range of issues affecting women in the workplace including:

  • Right to request
  • Multi-employer bargaining
  • Collective bargaining
  • Pay equity
  • Paid parental leave
  • Climate change
  • Superannuation
  • Sex discrimination
  • Introduction
    A year ago, the ACTU and unions were fighting with all our might on behalf of working people to defend their rights at work.

    Make no mistake – women workers in particular were badly hurt by WorkChoices. For the first time in decades, the pay equity gap grew wider as more and more women were forced onto individual contracts that stripped their pay to the barest of wage levels, in many cases illegally underpaying them, and stripped away their job security.

    Women were going backwards at a rate of knots despite more than a decade of economic prosperity.  
    Who could stand by and watch that happen? Certainly not the union movement, probably no one in this room, and as it turns out, the vast majority of the community also rejected this appalling inequity. 

    One year on, it’s as if we have woken to find an entirely new landscape in front of us… The opportunities and the challenges loom very large and an economic weather outlook that is unpredictable.

    With a new government and a fresh start, we have a rare, once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-imagine and re-construct the legal and cultural framework that will shape the way we work in this country for decades to come.

    Women have played an absolutely critical role in our long economic boom – entering the workforce in record numbers and fuelling massive growth in service sector industries.

    It’s our duty to make sure they are not left behind once again, particularly if the economy they have helped to build starts to hit uncertain times.

    Dismantling WorkChoices’ nasty individual contracts has been a good start, but there’s much more to be considered.

    Central to this is the Rudd Government’s new industrial relations laws – due to be introduced in the Spring session of parliament and implemented by 2010.

    It’s a critical time and special attention must be given to women’s rights at work to ensure they are guaranteed equal treatment and are able to confidently balance their family, life and work responsibilities in a productive and healthy way.

    Download the entire speech in Word doc below.