The Guardian 9 March, 2005

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Bush's gift to women

The Bush administration has a funny way of marking International Women's Day. It has tried (so far unsuccessfully) to roll back efforts to improve the status of women by demanding that the UN publicly renounce abortion rights.

This ugly demand overshadowed the opening last week of a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Beijing conference on the status of women. The Beijing conference is regarded as a landmark in promoting global cooperation on women's equality.

The UN's commission on the status of women has drafted a short declaration reaffirming support for the Beijing declaration and called for further efforts to implement its recommendations.

The USA demanded (in a closed-door session) that the document should be reaffirmed only if "they do not include the right to abortion", according to the US text.

Who do they think they are? It's bad enough in the USA where under the Bush presidency there has been a creeping erosion of government support for social and women's services. The USA administration has been trying to link its international aid to the abortion issue as well.

Any international aid organisation working with women and children would know that women's health is one of the most important issues in many countries. Safe and legal abortion is a health issue and people like George Bush and his fundamentalist cronies should butt out and leave international bodies do the work they are asked to do.

Recent UNICEF report stated that more than 211 million children worldwide work full-time, half of them in appalling conditions. Some work as prostitutes or miners. Where is the Bush administration with its so-called Christian values when it comes to these children?

Sue Saunders
Sydney, NSW

WA people reject government claims

The people of WA chose to protect their way of life by the "NO" vote in the referendum rejecting 24-hour and Sunday shopping.

WA people reject the treasurer's claim of high employment. The retail trade and service industries are responsible for the bulk of casual and part-time work in WA. Such jobs offer no financial security to workers. Penalty rates would have disappeared under 24-hour shopping. The working poor, who earn less than $600 a week, want full-time secure work not more low paid casual jobs. National wealth does not measure up in WA when personal debt is at an all time high.

Investment in training for future projects has been neglected over the last decade. As well as our youth, a whole generation from 25 to 35 are trapped in casual work despite a crisis in skilled jobs.

It is morally and ethically wrong to penalise WA of funds under Competition and Consumer law. These funds are desperately needed to train workers to help them out of the poverty trap.

The federal government's industrial relations legislation offers no job security to casual workers. Like tax laws and the GST, all are biased against low paid workers and give cartels more "power over" the working poor. The federal government is developing an underclass by attempting to cut the minimum wage and introducing unfair dismissal laws.

Maybe the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should be looking into the Government and their failure to pass long awaited legislations to stop cartels from exploiting people. Graeme Samuel chairman of the ACCC said recently, "Cartels are a cancer on our economy".

"Price fixing, bid rigging and market sharing are a silent extortion that damage our economy and consumers, price fixing steal millions of dollars from consumers." The treasurer has sat on legislation to stop this extortion for over two years. So why is the IR legislation taking priority? Is it to help cartels make even bigger profits?

Mary Jenkins
Australian National Organisation of the Un(der) Employed (ANOUE)
Bibra Lake WA

Child labour close to home

I have noted with some concern a recent trend evident in the inner city of Sydney and possibly other regions of Australia.

Unions in Australia have fought for many years to get rid of child labour. But now we see working in McDonalds and other small and large retail and fast food stores young people who are under the age of 15 years. Some are only in year 7 at school so may only be 12 to 13 years of age.

In some cases parents have signed a kind of disclaimer - acknowledging that the young person is under the legal age to work.

This is very disturbing on many levels as these young people should have time to study, to play sport and pursue other interests and generally be a young person without the pressure of the work-place and the boss. Having a small disposable income also makes them ready prey to the mobile phone companies - with all the new versions of phones etc and other merchandise which then puts these young people in debt. Setting up a cycle which means they need to keep working to pay for their phone.

So next time you are somewhere and you think the staff are very young - there is every chance that they are.

Josephine Donnolley
Sydney, NSW

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