Better, more diverse workplaces were on the agenda at the 2023 Women’s Conference.
Women from throughout the PSA CPSU NSW’s diverse membership came together to celebrate achievements, plan for the future and discuss the theme for
Women’s Conference: Embrace Equity.
In her Welcome to Country, Aunty Joan Bell of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council said events such as these were a chance to “honour matriarchs and patriarchs” and take the right path forged by ancestors.
Like many speakers throughout Conference, Aunty Joan tied the pursuit of equity in the workplace with the biggest political issue of the time: the referendum for the Voice to Parliament.
As explained by Women’s Council Chair Leanne Smith, equity is not simply giving all the same chances, it is recognising that not everyone has the same opportunities and that people need different support.
Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright said fighting for equity in the workplace meant “recognising that sometimes systemic and structural barriers are such that equal treatment is not enough to overcome them, and instead, because we all do not start with the same advantages, then sometimes different solutions are required”.
Citing the huge percentage of women in schools in insecure work, he said the union recognised more action was required in some areas to overcome a lack of equitable access to opportunities.
“Equality would the same conversion-to- permanency rights available to all public sector workers,” said Mr Wright. “But recognising this was a 96 per cent female- dominated workforce, embracing equity meant we needed to do more.”
Conference was officially opened by Jodie Harrison, the NSW Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, who praised her hosts for the union’s role in “gendering activism in the workplace”.
Part of a groundbreaking NSW Cabinet that is 50 per cent women, Ms Harrison said this was the result of her party recognising inequitable access to power and putting women in safe seats.
Not such good news, she added, was the Public Sector pay gap that has increased in recent years, to be at its highest point in a decade, as well as results from the People Matter survey showing a lack of trust in the way sexual harassment was dealt with.
Overcoming issues such as these, she said, will involve the NSW Government working alongside unions.
Conference took a more manic turn when author and broadcaster Jean Kittson came on stage as keynote speaker.
To laughs from the crowd, Ms Kittson talked about the progress made in women’s participation in the workplace.
“Women have always run a large part of everything, often invisibly,” she said. “We are now openly running everything.
“Stuffing things up is no longer the exclusive domain of men.”
Ms Kittson, who has written a book about menopause, said it was time stigma was removed from the subject, as well as other phases of reproductive health.
“Our reproductive life and leave are incredibly important,” she said.
Jami Walk of Gidget Foundation talked about a lack of First Nations voices in the perenatal support sector,.
Continuing the theme of reconciliation, Shanice Leadbeatter and Erica Smits from the PSA CPSU NSW Aboriginal Council gave accounts of their families, with confronting tales of children snatched from parents and the intergenerational trauma that followed.
A signatory on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Ms Smits said a Yes vote for the Voice “means so much for First Nations people. It is a step in the door.”
Ms Leadbeatter talked about being removed temporarily from her parents. “When you get children stolen, that affects our whole mob,” she said.
She implored Conference attendees to hear Aboriginal people’s perspectives.
“I ask you: if you are talking to an Aboriginal person, listen deeply,” she said.
Annabelle Daniel, who established the Women’s Community Shelters network, was the next guest, sharing her insights into the relationship between domestic violence and the growing number of older women experiencing homelessness.
“Economic freedom and independence is the key to preventing abuse,” said Ms Daniel. She said income support available to women is inadequate, forcing many to stay in violent domestic situations.
In an emotional address, the next speaker, NSW Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis thanked the union for its support when her party was “decimated” in 2011.
Now the Labor Party is in charge both at a Federal and State level, Ms Cotsis said she is working on a “comprehensive agenda” with Federal Minister Tony Burke.
Ms Cotsis, who is also Work Health and Safety Minister, said she is taking safe workplaces seriously. She accused her Liberal National predecessors of viewing workplace heath and safety as merely a “red tape issue” that got in the way of business. Lua Pellegrini, a Policy Officer with the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian and a prominent artist, talked about experience acting as a carer for her brother, and being one of the estimated 80,000 young carers in NSW, most of whom are young women.
Greens Spokesperson on Housing, Jenny Leong, said when “even The Daily Telegraph admits there is a rental crisis” it is time to talk about public housing.
“Unless we get more investment in public housing, people on the Housing waiting list will never get off that list,” she said. “We know how to solve the housing crisis, it is not difficult. The reason is big banks and property developers are making lots of money and don’t want it solved.
“The market is what has failed us, and it is what is fuelling the housing crisis. We need to be outraged at privatisation of public housing and public land.”
Labor MP and former Paralympian Liesl Tesch presented a stirring speech, from her tough upbringing, through to an accident and a subsequent sporting career as a wheelchair basketballer and sailor in an astonishing seven Olympic Games appearances.
Ms Tesch now serves as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, where she is “the person behind each of the portfolios making sure they take disabilities into account. Inclusion is everybody’s business.”
Karen Willis from Unions NSW discussed the progress from one of the PSA CPSU NSW’s trailblazing initiatives, Domestic and Family Violence Leave.
Ms Willis discussed how the leave works, how its privacy provisions work and how it can be used for women when leaving violence domestic situations.
Labor’s NSW Minister for Housing, Rose Jackson, gave a shorter presentation with more time for questions from the floor.
She talked up Labor’s new Homes NSW initiative and affordable housing in the state, saying she was committed to working with unions.
Conference next heard from SafeWork NSW representatives Christina Hey- Nguyen and Michael van Dyk, who showed how sexual harassment can he dealt with as a workplace health and safety issue.
Final speaker was Sydney Colussi from the University of Sydney who discussed reproductive support in the workplace, including paid leave, flexibility and other workplace adjustments for menstruation, menopause, fertility treatments.
She said employers need to respond to greater women’s workplace participation, including an ageing workforce. She added changing expectations from young women need to be taken into account.