Howard’s policies labelled ‘regressive’ towards working women

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Howard’s policies labelled ‘regressive’ towards working women

The Howard Government's policies towards working women have been labelled ‘regressive’ by leading women’s advocate Dr Anne Summers on the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act.

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The Howard Government's policies towards working women have been labelled ‘regressive’ by leading women’s advocate Dr Anne Summers on the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Addressing the Women, Management and Employment Relations conference in Sydney, Summers said that the status of women in the workplace has declined under the current government, and called for women’s issues in the workplace to be placed back on the political agenda.

‘Despite the examples of women moving into more prominent positions, the reality is the proportion of women in full-time work has not increased in 30 years,’ said Summers. ‘Equal pay is a farce. Women have not been on the Canberra agenda.’

Summers said that the Howard Government was not interested in creating a situation where women could be workers and mothers. She claimed that current policy only encouraged more women to leave the workplace or work casually, creating economic insecurity for women and deepening the labour shortage.

‘Women are being forced to make a choice between a career and motherhood. The current policies favour a family model where the woman hardly, or does not work,’ she said.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow told the conference that although there had been a workforce revolution, with greater numbers of women participating in the workforce, there had not been a workplace revolution.

‘We are still not seeing women rising through the ranks,’ she said. ‘You only need to look at the number of female CEOs in this country. The numbers are so small that we know them all personally.’

Burrow accused the Howard Government of being ‘anti-women’, and said that little had changed for women in work since landmark legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Pay in the 1970’s.

‘It is the same issues still on the agenda 20 years later – that of equal pay, women rising through the ranks and adequate child-care,’ she said. ‘We now have a situation where the current tax regime encourages women to stay out of the workforce.’

Burrow also called for the Sex Discrimination Act to be strengthened by developing a closer relationship with the Industrial Relations Commission.

‘We need to be able to look at real industrial action on the grounds of sex discrimination, including collective action and test case action if we want to really change the culture of the workplace,’ said Burrow.

The two-day conference in Sydney is the 16th annual event and is addressing topics including the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act, paid maternity leave, women in management and prejudices against women in the workplace.

Over the next few days, WorkplaceInfo will bring you more stories from the conference. 

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