Information for migrant women factory workers

November 2, 1994

By Anthony Brown

BRISBANE — In 1990 a group of women community workers here formed the Factory Information Project.

The project grew out of concerns that many women from non-English speaking backgrounds were not accessing community services, such as child health, legal aid and domestic violence support, due to lack of knowledge of what was available and because of cultural and language barriers.

To advertise what services were available, the community workers took the "take the mountain to Mohammed" approach. They decided to visit local factories.

Currently community workers from the Department of Social Security, the Queensland Department of Health, the Ethnic Child-care Development Unit, Women's Infolink, the Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service, the South Brisbane Community Legal Service and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre are involved in the project.

Philippine-born Aurea Payumo, a community worker with the Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service and the Factory Information Project, said many women from non-English speaking backgrounds work in Australian factories.

"A lot of these women are not accessing services because they only speak a little English. So we've compiled a multilingual kit with information on what services are available, and we give these out during our visits. The kit comes in Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Croatian and other languages.

"For example, the Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service provides information on how it can help women if they are living in domestic violence situations", Payumo said.

The Migrant Women's Emergency Support Service deals with at least 30 domestic violence cases per month. Payumo said the majority of women it helps come from Vietnamese, Filipino and Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

In the Australian Filipino community, 17 women have been killed since 1980, mostly by their Australian partners.

"Before we visit a factory, we contact the managers to find out how many of their workers are from non-English speaking backgrounds and to request permission to visit", Payumo said.

She said the responses from managers varied. "Some managers fear that we are affiliated with the unions and refuse to give permission. Some say: 'Our workers don't need that sort of information'. One manager I spoke to said: 'Haven't you guys got anything better to do than this?'!

"So we're left with visiting factories where managers have agreed to allow us to visit."

Another problem is the limited contact time.

"We usually end up visiting factories during lunch breaks. But we find that a half hour is barely enough time to give out kits, and not enough to speak to individual workers. Also, most factories run shifts, so we end up missing a lot of people because we are confined to lunchtime visits", Payumo said.

On top of these problems was the issue of funding. Payumo said they would like to employ a full-time officer who could be wholly dedicated to the project.

They have already approached and been refused funding by the Federal Department of Employment, Education and Training, which argued that the project did not fall within its funding parameters.

She said they were currently looking at other funding options.

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