Thursday, 22 September 2011
Foreign Acquisitions Amendment (Agricultural Land) Bill 2010; Second Reading
I rise tonight to speak about a newly formed organisation that I am very proud to be associated with, and that is the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste. The Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste has been established in Dili with the support of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA; the Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor-Leste, or KSTL as it is known, which is the national trade union organisation of East Timor; and the Australian Network of Working Women's Centres, which includes the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre, the South Australian Working Women's Centre and the Queensland Working Women's Service.
Earlier this month, the fourth Conference on Women and Industrial Relations was held in Dili to coincide specifically with the official launch of the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste. Previous to this, in Australia we had the inaugural Our Work Our Lives conference in 2006 in Queensland, organised by the Queensland Working Women's Service and Griffith University; the second Our Work Our Lives conference in 2007 in Adelaide, organised by the South Australia Working Women's Centre; and of course the last conference in 2009, organised by the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre, with academic support from the University of Western Australia. I was there, actually, at the Our Work Our Lives conference in the Northern Territory, to which women from Timor-Leste had been invited. A number of people got talking about seeing whether we could get a Working Women's Centre established in Timor-Leste, and why we shouldn't even try to have a conference over there in 2011. It was an absolute joy to see both of those dreams realised at the attendance of that conference earlier this month. The conference was held with the support, as I said, of the Australian Network of Working Women's Centres, the University of South Australia and the Queensland University of Technology. It was a resounding success, with people from a range of backgrounds participating in the conference. Academics, policymakers, practitioners and unions, parts of organisations or simply interested individuals discussed ideas around assisting women in precarious or vulnerable work; women's access to their rights and entitlements; progress towards decent work in the Asia-Pacific; and building sustainable communities through women's workforce participation.
Guest speakers included our own Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations, Jacinta Collins. She spoke on the importance of the women's community sector organisations and also women's access to their rights and entitlements and the equal pay case for social and community workers. Also at the conference was our own Northern Territory Minister for Women's Policy, Minister Malarndirri McCarthy. The Northern Territory government generously sponsored the conference. ACTU President Ged Kearney was also present. She spoke about the importance of the trade union movement and its connection to the women's community sector. The Vice President of Timor-Leste's parliament, Maria Da Costa Paxiao, and Timor-Leste Parliamentary Secretary Teresinha Viegas were also present.
The working women's centres in Australia provide invaluable support and advice about work related matters to our most vulnerable women workers. Their advice is free and confidential. The centres target their services to those in disadvantaged bargaining positions, insecure and low-paid work. They are not-for-profit community organisations whose objective is to increase women's participation in and contribution to workplace arrangements that improve their income and conditions. I am a proud founding member of the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre and I believe very passionately in the crucial work that they do. Queensland and South Australia also have centres that provide this service.
The Working Women's Centre in Timor-Leste will be providing an even more important service in that country, which is still developing its industrial relations laws. Timor-Leste is ranked 140 on the Human Development Index; two in five people are poor, mainly concentrated in rural areas. Households headed by males are consistently better off than female-headed households in all of the usual indicators: education, health and subjective wellbeing. While cultural attitudes towards traditional gender roles have begun to change, women are still limited in progressing towards equal rights. The new constitution sees equal rights and duties for men and women in all aspects of life, but access, such as to the law, is still an issue for women. This is particularly true in relation to domestic and gender based violence.
While the women of Timor-Leste have traditionally held roles in the home, an increasing number of young women are now accessing formal education and seeking employment to help take themselves and their families out of poverty. Of the working population aged over 15 years, only 29 per cent are female. Labour participation is at its highest when women are aged in the mid-thirties and early forties, with the peak participation rate at 15 per cent when women are between 35 and 39 years of age. Forty-five per cent of women have had no formal education at all, compared to 34 per cent of men. Men are twice as likely as women to have completed university education or a diploma at a polytechnic.
Unfortunately, most work available to women in Timor-Leste is characterised by informal workplace arrangements. It is common for jobs to be found through word of mouth and paid cash in hand, resulting in little or no negotiation of fair wages and conditions, and certainly no such entitlements as leave for illness, pregnancy or family related matters. Since these women are unregistered workers, they are unable to access existing or proposed social security schemes. Since there are no occupational health and safety laws in Timor-Leste, some women are experiencing violence, harassment and other forms of coercion—experiences which no worker should have to put up with. A growing number of women are seeking employment as domestic helpers; however, there is no formal support for them. Domestic workers are not unionised and have no access to minimum entitlements or awareness of decent working conditions.
It is very clear that the services of the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste will be in great demand as the country sees more women in the paid workforce. The centre aims to provide information, advice and support to women on work issues, initiating and implementing training programs, responding to specific issues and developing resources on issues facing women in or entering the workforce, and actively promoting equal employment opportunity for women through policy development, committees and campaigns. The centre has received support from the AusAID innovation fund to initiate and implement education, support and advocacy for vulnerable women workers in Timor-Leste, a program focusing on women working as domestic workers to provide them with education, advocacy and support to access their rights.
I take this opportunity to place on record the fantastic work that was done by people such as Tanya Karliychuk, who was the project officer for Timor-Leste and Indonesia at Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, who was able to put together a proposal to access those funds and was inevitably successful in getting those funds from the Australian government, and Shabnam Hameed, Trade Union Adviser to the KSTL for the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste, who relocated to Dili from Sydney for the last year and put in so much time and effort getting the centre established. They were backed in passion and commitment by wonderful women in Australia such as Sandra Dann from South Australia, Robyn Greenwood and my own two really great coordinators of the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre, Anna Davis and Rachael Uebergang.
The Australian Network of Working Women's Centres will support the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste by helping with policy development, research and capacity building, such as initial staff training. The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse will also be assisting the centre by providing access to national and international evidence based research on violence and its relationship with women's work. Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste has the full support of all seven affiliate unions of the KSTL. These are unions that represent nurses, teachers, public servants and agriculture, construction, general and maritime and energy workers.
I congratulate the founding members of the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste: Abelita Da Silva; Ana Filomena Soares Mariano; Cecilya de Jesus; Eduarda Martins Goncaves; Elisabeth De Araujo, an outstanding woman who has done a great job there; Henyta Casimira; Marlia Lese Pires Moniz; Odete Amaral; Ricar Pascoela; and Rosa Soares. Of course, my very special congratulations, and all the best, go to Jessica Sequeira, who is the newly appointed Coordinator of the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste. I am extremely proud to see the establishment and the opening of the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste, which can now join a wonderful network of three working women's centres that we have back home here in Australia.
Senate adjourned at 19:14