As part of a nationwide day of action, more than 1000 people marched on the Victorian parliament on June 8 to fight for state and federal governments to back their claim for increased wages.
The Melbourne rally was one of 17 across the country, organised by the Australian Services Union (ASU), which advocates for workers in the female-dominated community services sector.
The national day of action comes as a response to Fair Work Australia’s finding that the sector’s workers were not being payed enough, in part, because most of them are women.
The Melbourne rally began outside Trades Hall in Lygon Street. Protesters heard a number of speakers, including representatives from the ASU and Zelda D’Aprano — a long-time women’s rights activist.
Protesters then marched to parliament house, where those who had looked up and learned the dance steps previously (they were available on Youtube and Facebook) danced to “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer.
It was the biggest Australia-wide rally since the 1970s to fight for equal pay for women.
The ASU conducted a survey of 781 Victorian community services workers. It found 87% noticed increased demand on services in the last two years; 73% regularly work more hours than contracted to; 87% of managers cite low wages as the main barrier to recruitment; 91% of managers have problems retaining staff, low wages are the biggest reason; and 64.3% would me more likely to leave the sector if services or jobs were cut because of a lack of funding.
ASU assistant branch secretary Lisa Darmanin says the issue will be pursued relentlessly. She said: “We think this is one of the biggest turnouts we have ever seen … I think the vibe is that while people are here, they are not getting angrier. This was a pretty angry crowd today and we’re not going to stop until we win.
“We are renewing our call to both state and federal governments to address the pay gap, stop undervaluing their work, and ensure that the sector can meet the community’s growing need for their services.”
In response to why she attended the event, the Monash University student union’s Women’s Officer, Vittoria Carreri told Green Left Weekly: “I don't like the idea that I live in a culture where something that's considered women's work is somehow inherently less valuable than men's. I think it's important to support the push for cultural change wherever you can.”