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Reclaiming International Working Women’s Day from the champagne lunch crew

Written by: Louisa L. on 8 March 2023


The first piece in this series by Louisa L showed class and Aboriginality overwhelmingly influence how patriarchy is experienced. This article talks of women and the work they do.

Unequal pay equals unequal power. 

Women at work still earn significantly less than men. 

Illawarra Women’s Health Care worker Kim Sattler, speaking to Spirit of Eureka, says before Covid women were finally catching up to men in the level of employment, type of jobs and pay. 

She points out, “Pay equity is still the biggest issue, because it has such long-term ramifications,” and that employers often ‘declassify’ women from higher paid jobs, while they still do the same work. 

“Low and fixed incomes income, they’re the crunch,” Ms Sattler says. “The numbers of women on Newstart and Disability Support Pensions are shooting up.”

When Covid hit, “many women lost jobs and still scramble to get them back,” she states. 

Another friend agrees, “Casualisation of work – how do you plan without a permanent wage? Big companies are taking jobs away. People who don’t have work are frowned upon.” 

Kim Sattler says migrant women are hit hardest. They can’t even get interviews when they have better qualifications. 

Some former refugees, men and women, found jobs, welcome and homes in a rural Victorian town recently. The town thrived. A win-win. Actually, the meatworkers had walked out and left town due to scandalously low pay and bad conditions, before ABC’s ‘Backroads’ spun that fairy tale. 

Also before Covid, some young women on holiday work permits exposed sexual abuse and threats they faced on isolated sheep and cattle stations. 
Unpaid Aboriginal women had often suffered even worse. But it was ongoing, happened in silence, and their pale children were stolen. Their descendants often face shocking unemployment rates. The government-supported CDEP provided regular, useful work, determined by communities. After the NT Intervention, First Peoples’ women and men were tricked into joining its similarly named replacement, CDP. It was white imposed and little more than slave labour. 

If you don’t fight

Women have very different experiences at work. A former neighbour says her employer encourages young women to develop their potential and respects older women for their experience, so her workplace is happy. But those are not the averages. Too often women face the opposite. 

Where extracting profits are involved, work hours and intensity increase. Pay does not. It’s that old slogan, if you don’t fight, you’ve already lost.

The ABC reported recently that half of rural childcare workers quit in their first year. In cities and big towns, it’s 35%. Unsurprising when some collect refundable cans to supplement their pay. 

In NSW, it took three 24-hour strikes and rallies for teachers, mostly female, to convince the ALP Opposition to promise a bigger pay rise (still not matching inflation) and cut teachers’ outrageous IT-enabled “compliance and reporting” workloads. Many were dismayed when a strike was cancelled and it became a parliamentary campaign, but wildcat strikes are ongoing. Even in wealthier areas, the current premier and education minister can’t step into a state school without teachers walking out. 

Yet in NSW, it now takes ten weeks to sack a teacher. Older women, migrants and union representatives are often targeted. It’s a ticking time bomb begun nearly two decades back in Queensland schools.

Nationally, student-centred systems, where teachers once collectively created curriculum according to needs, is more top down, narrowed by high stakes NAPLAN tests run by the world’s biggest education corporation. 

We have the developed world’s most unequal education system. 

Staggeringly underfunded, state schools are increasingly for the poor. Some parents, particularly women, impoverish their own futures by guilt-driven choices to pay for children’s private education.

Boys’ clubs

Some women told Vanguard that blatantly sexist “boys’ clubs” that ran workplaces have almost disappeared. Despite that, even in highly feminised jobs like primary schools, the far fewer males are significantly more likely to be promoted, sometimes because women lack confidence, but mainly because have too many responsibilities outside work to apply. 

Among doctors and other higher paid health professionals, single women tell us they are sidelined and that the boy’s club is still supreme. Another young woman reports that in the business world, perceptions of leadership qualities meant men were still more likely to get promotions.

Hardly surprising. Increasing enrolments in anti-community single sex schools – particularly expensive government-funded elitist ones – quickly rebuild boys’ clubs. 

Another friend says we need both recognition of the wisdom of elders through experience, and the energy and effort of the young who live in a hostile system.
Her daughter, currently teaching in a state primary school three days a week and, as mother of two young children, juggles work-life balance, and the cost of living. Childcare costs are like mountains. 

There’s workload stress, multiplied by teacher shortages. The woman she shares her class with has resigned, like a flood of others across a critically stressed system. Some elitist schools offer up to $30,000 a year more to those they cherry pick from the state system. 

It doesn’t belong to them!

Spokeswomen, not men, are chosen by corporations to mop up when they’ve been caught breaking laws, evading tax, when the food delivery riders they call independent contractors die in road accidents, or when gas hubs destroy ancient and sacred art sites. Why? Research shows women are more trusted than men. 

Young migrant men are the bulk of food delivery riders. At least they wear high viz now, and union struggle means some are now employees of those raking in worldwide trillions from them.

This writer knows only one delivery rider, a young woman who found freedom in riding. Until a repetitive strain injury. No compo. No money. No riding for months. Clinically depressed as well as broke.

Sometimes the smaller capitalist media and state-owned ABC and SBS, break stories of abuses of women workers. Yet how often are female high flyers given the media coverage to tell us that smashing the so-called glass ceiling at the top is what we should aspire to. 

What a miserable way forward. 

Would gender equity on corporate boards and in parliament make a scrap of difference to contract cleaners, agricultural, call centre workers? Or to the rest of us? Remember, as education minister Saint Julia Gillard of the Misogyny Speech threatened state school teachers with $6000 individual fines if they didn’t end their ban on the first NAPLAN, the first step to narrow, profit driven corporate education.

She’ll be there with the female corporate and top bureaucrat women at champagne lunches, brunches or breakfasts on March 8. 

International Working Women’s Day doesn’t belong to them. It never has. It never will. It belongs to working women around the world in our billions. Capital letters. Full stop. End of story.


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