The Guardian July 2, 2003


Save the NSW Working Women's Centre

A community Alliance has been formed to support the NSW Working Women's 
Centre which is under threat of closure after ten years of service, because 
the Howard Government has withheld its funding. The Working Women's Centre 
Alliance has a broad spectrum of supporters across the community.

"We support the NSW Working Women's Centre because it is a non-profit 
organisation that provides specialised, professional information, advice 
and assistance to women on their rights, obligations and entitlements at 
work" said an Alliance statement.

"The women who contact and use this service are often disadvantaged in 
their employment, and do not have access to other forums for advice and 
assistance."

Service

The Centre is the only service of its kind in NSW, providing free, 
specialised industrial and workplace relations advice, information and 
assistance to women in NSW. The Centre targets these services to women who 
are vulnerable in their employment  particularly women from non-English 
speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal women, and women with family 
responsibilities, in precarious or casual employment, or with a disability.

In workplaces where there is a limited union presence, the service provided 
by the Centre is critical. The women who rely on the Centre are 
experiencing difficulties in relation to work, such as struggling to 
balance their work and family commitments, in an employment environment 
where the rules are changing rapidly.

The Centre also provides an Advocacy Service to represent women in need of 
further assistance. The women that the Centre advocates for have no other 
means of representation.

Matters in the public interest are also top priority. Many of these matters 
are about work/life/family balance  such as maternity entitlements and 
discrimination (including based on pregnancy, carer's responsibilities, 
sex, race or disability) and these issues are resolved appropriately 
through the legal and industrial relations systems.

With limited resources, the Centre has developed expertise in the provision 
of industrial relations advice and works primarily at the intersection 
between industrial and anti-discrimination law.

Legal practitioners will often act for Working Women's Centre clients pro 
bono if the Centre has referred them. In other instances, the Centre can 
refer clients to the agency or organisation that can best help them to 
resolve their issues.

In addition, the Centre has a community education function and has been in 
direct contract with over 15,000 women since 1994 through workshops and 
seminars on employment rights information, both in Sydney and around the 
State, and to a variety of different audiences. The Centre also holds 
stalls and information sessions on employment rights at community and 
commercial events.

The Centre's work in regional areas is a high priority, with its advocates 
and community educators having visited many areas of regional NSW in recent 
years, including Dubbo, Broken Hill, Wagga Wagga, the South Coast, the 
Central Coast, the Illawarra region and the far North Coast of NSW.

Advice, information, advocacy, awareness

Women contacting the InfoLine come from diverse backgrounds, workplaces and 
occupations. They have one thing in common  they need advice or 
information about a work-related issue. Over 12,000 women have contacted 
this service since it began in 1994.

The Centre's advocacy service provides free, professional legal or 
industrial representation and intensive assistance to women experiencing 
more complex problems in the workplace. Some of the issues the service is 
currently dealing with include:

* assistance to women returning from maternity leave in negotiating family-
friendly and part-time work arrangements with their employer.

* assistance with an Unfair Dismissal application for a woman who speaks 
very little English

* assistance with the resolution of harassment and discrimination 
complaints, including before the Anti-Discrimination Board and the Human 
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

The Centre also undertakes a community education program and has a broader 
systemic advocacy function, contributing to public awareness and debate 
about the issues faced by women at work.

Help keep this critical service

There has been widespread attention in the media, for instance, about the 
conflicting pressures of work and family, longer working hours, higher 
workloads and increasing work demands, and about increasing levels of 
casual and insecure employment.

These issues affect everyone. But the Working Women's Centre Alliance 
understands that these issues impact in a specific way on women because:

* women are more likely to bear the primary responsibility for the care of 
family members;

* women are much more likely to use part-time work than any other 
arrangement to balance their carer's responsibilities;

* women are more likely to earn less, and work in casual employment;

* women continue to encounter discrimination at work  particularly in 
relation to pregnancy and motherhood, or sexual harassment.

There are also women with particular needs in relation to employment. Women 
from non-English speaking backgrounds are often vulnerable because they do 
not have the language skills or resources to access information about their 
rights at work.

Aboriginal women have difficulty accessing employment  and those who have 
found work often face prejudice. There are also specific difficulties 
experienced by women with family commitments, or who have a disability, or 
whose employment is particularly precarious.

The Working Women's Centre Alliance recognises that the Centre provides a 
critical service in relation to ensuring that women have access to 
information and advice in order to be informed and make choices about the 
issues that affect them at work. Now, perhaps more than ever, the need for 
the NSW Working Women's Centre is crucial.

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