Women are not anti-union
By Melanie Sjoberg
ADELAIDE — Two important new documents, Raising Our Voices: Activism Amongst Women and Men in South Australian Unions, by Barbara Pocock, and its companion Strength in Numbers: Increasing Women's Representation in Unions, by Kathie Muir, were launched at the United Trades and Labour Council on November 21.
Researchers spent two years working in conjunction with the SA branches of the Automotive, Food, Metals & Engineering Union (AFMEU), National Union of Workers (NUW), Public Sector Union (PSU) and Australian Services Union (ASU). Union members were surveyed about their levels of involvement, priorities and barriers to participation.
The resulting documents dispel many of the myths about women not being supportive of unions. The research provided an information base which was then used to establish strategies for trade unions to implement affirmative action programs and encourage the participation of women at all levels.
Key points are that women are no less union conscious nor less likely to join a union than males in the same industry. Responses from women showed that they join unions to protect their rights and employment situation. Sideline services were not identified as a priority by either men or women. This should be noted by the many pundits who have been advocating that unions need to offer more diverse services, like holidays and discounts, to encourage membership.
Eighty per cent of both men and women agreed that the most important reason for being a union member was job security, followed by protecting working conditions, then health and safety issues. Women placed discrimination on the job and equal pay as their next most significant considerations. This has implications for enterprise bargaining and where that leaves women in the pay stakes.
The reports identify barriers that women face in becoming more active in their union. Not surprisingly, being too busy at home or too tired were high on the agenda. Many women noted that they had never been asked, and child-care was a central issue. The implementation document suggests that trade unions need to conduct more meetings during working hours and attempt to achieve more time off for union activities from employers.
The key task now is to ensure that these findings are widely distributed and the mechanisms implemented that begin to encourage more women's participation.
[The pamphlets are available without charge from the Centre for Labour Studies, University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5000.]