Geelong tells Liberals to keep penalty rates

Adele Welsh at the rally.
Saturday, June 3, 2017

Unionists held a protest in favour of penalty rates on May 27 outside the Liberal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson’s Geelong office. Adele Welsh, a social worker and member of the Australian Services Union and Geelong Trades Hall Executive, gave this speech at the protest.

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We’re here today to tell Sarah Henderson that the community here in Geelong and Corangamite values penalty rates and the difference penalty rates make to our incomes, our lives, our abilities to participate in our communities and our ability to care for our children.

I’m a single mum, and contrary to what the Liberal government would have you believe about me and the life I lead, I’m tertiary educated, I have always been in full-time employment, always contributed to my community and my three children are all tertiary educated. My two girls are university graduates, and my son is successfully self-employed.

All three kids had retail and hospitality jobs from the time they were 16 and worked to put themselves through TAFE and university. I come from a very close extended family and our family is very big on getting together for everyone’s birthday, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day so we can spend time together as a family.

Most of those occasions fall on weekends and public holidays, so as the kids got older and started their supermarket jobs, one or more of them would be missing from the family gatherings.

They needed to be available to work on Sundays and public holidays because they relied on penalty rates to help them to save up for a car, to buy their university books, and for those fabulous Aussie traditions like going to music festivals, camping trips to Lorne and travelling overseas.

Some people might think that it doesn’t matter if some of the kids aren’t there at every family party, but it mattered to my family, and it especially mattered to my dad, because he was terminally ill during the kids’ late teens and early twenties.

So dad never got to see the final results of the sacrifices that we all made to get the kids an education because he passed away shortly after my son turned 21. My family knows that time away from family can never be replaced.

I’m very proud to say all three kids are fabulous, independent contributing members of their communities and all three have a social and industrial conscience and refuse to tolerate injustice of any kind. My dad would be very proud of my children.

Sarah Henderson, your government wants people off benefits, and wants people to be independent, but ordinary, working-class families like mine can’t afford to put our kids through uni like rich families can.

Working-class families rely on the few extra bucks that penalty rates bring in. We rely on that money to pay our bills, and our kids rely on that money to enable them to get an education and to become independent working adults.

You claim to listen to your community and support your community, and we call on you today, to commit to vote against proposed cuts to penalty rates. Shame on any government that proposes to cut the incomes of some of the lowest paid workers in our community.

Most of my work as a social worker has been supporting vulnerable and at risk women and children, including women affected by family violence. Sarah Henderson, I believe you are chairing a parliamentary enquiry into family violence and family law and there are proposed changes on the table.

While I commend any changes that may keep women and children safer, one of the things we know about family violence is that it is underpinned by gendered inequality, and a major contributing factor to gendered inequality is financial inequality.

We know that financial control of women is one of the most common forms of control in violent relations. Until we as a society are prepared to stand up against the financial control of women in our homes and in our workplaces, family violence will continue and women will continue to die.

We know that women and young people will be primarily affected by any cuts to penalty rates, as women and young people primarily work in the affected sectors.

Sarah Henderson, if you care about women’s safety, family violence reform, family values and supporting young people to transition into independent working adults, you will not allow the proposed cuts to penalty rates to go ahead. Sarah Henderson, if you don’t vote against penalty rate cuts, you are nothing but a hypocrite.

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