The Guardian 27 July, 2005

Howard chokes working women

Pregnant, non-union women blocked from returning to work and migrant women uncertain of their industrial rights have lost a valuable service thanks to the refusal by federal and state governments to continue funding the NSW Working Women’s Centre.

The service was established in 1994 to provide information, advice and assistance to women who are vulnerable in their employment. The service has helped between 2000 and 3000 working women a year, but has been forced to close its doors due to a funding freeze by the federal government and continuous uncertainty about state government support.

The Working Women’s Centre was the only independent provider of free industrial legal advice in NSW for non-union women. It was supported by a range of unions and individuals.

The Centre’s management said that it had no choice but to close, after the Federal government refused repeated requests for a funding boost and failed to confirm whether any money would be available.

Alison Peters, the deputy assistant secretary of Unions NSW, and treasurer of the Working Women’s Centre, said it was a deliberate tactic on the part of the Liberal government to hold back funding in order to eliminate certain services.

Is it is a coincidence that on the eve of launching the greatest attack on workers’ rights in Australian history, the Howard government has cut off assistance to those who will be hardest hit?", she asked. "This is about gagging dissent on unfair dismissal laws and stripping workers of every protection."

The federal government shares the blame with the Carr state government, which refused to make up the funding shortfall.

The Chair of the Working Women’s Centre, Rae Cooper, said that those who would be hardest hit by the closure would be the state’s most disadvantaged women.

Most of the Centre’s clients were women who worked in low paid, casual, part-time and full-time work. These employees where not members of a union and were unable to afford the services of a private solicitor.

Of the thousands of women helped by the centre, almost one third had experienced pregnancy-related discrimination. This took the form of either sackings, problems returning to work following maternity leave, or denial of access to flexible work arrangements.

Ms Cooper said that bullying, unfair dismissals, and underpayment of wages were also major issues for women. Demand for the Centre’s services was on the rise, not falling when it closed on June 30.

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