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.