Union women have been building momentum for a campaign around the unequal and abysmal treatment of women in Australian workplaces. They have been organising meetings; making recruitment calls; and holding impassioned discussions about issues, strategy and tactics. "But," says Daria, one of the campaign organisers, "all union women agree: it’s time to get organised and get things done."
Last week was a big week. It was the start of a series of planned meetings with MPs to tell women’s stories and ask what they and their parties intend to do about the institutional harassment that women in this country face.
This is how those meetings went.
A Written Reconstruction of the Footage Josh Frydenberg’s Office Made Us Delete
Cathy, an ASU member, is standing in the reception area of Josh Frydenberg’s electorate office in Hawthorn. A helpful staff member is sitting behind the desk listening as Cathy requests a meeting with the Treasurer and Member for Kooyong. Josh is apparently not present.
Surrounded by four other union women, Cathy explains that, no, she and her group don’t wish to meet with a staffer or an adviser, they want a meeting with the local member. As an elected representative, he is responsible to the electorate and he must sit down and listen to women.
A week earlier, the group had emailed ahead to say they were coming at 10am on Thursday. The door had been locked when we arrived.
After some back and forth over whether a “highly qualified” senior adviser would be an adequate substitute (the Treasurer is just tooooooo busy, allllllll the time) the staff member at the window agrees to take down a list of key points to pass on to Mr. Frydenberg in the lead-up to a potential - one day, we’ll see, maybe, can we get back to you? - meeting.
Cathy, Brenda and Tess outline their demands: that the Treasurer make an official statement and pledge to adopt (within a set timeframe) the 55 recommendations outlined in the Safe@Work Report, which has been sitting in a drawer in the Prime Minister’s office for almost two years now.
But more than that, the group demands the Liberal Party accept some accountability and stand up for the women of Australia.
Gladys Liu Hasn’t Read The Report
Gladys Liu, aware that she is being filmed in the meeting room of her electorate office, admits that she hasn’t read the report.
It is an arduous process locking in a meeting with Gladys Liu. On arrival, the women in attendance are told she is not available. When they push back and say they had been told she would be, Gladys Liu… is suddenly available again.
The Member for Chisholm admits she hadn’t read the Respect@Work report - a report commissioned by her government, and which has been publicly available for a year. The women ask if she had any intention of taking the issue of gendered violence seriously, and she says she would have to talk to her constituents first. Two of her constituents - Amanda and Cathy, union women right there in the room with her - remind her that they are here to talk. Gladys promptly leaves the room, saying she has another meeting to attend. The questions hang in her wake.
The group leave, with no commitment from Gladys to make workplaces safe for women. The women look forward to paying Gladys another visit very soon.
The More Productive Meetings
Labor MPs Ged Kearney, Tim Watts and Peta Murphy are also visited by our activists and they had prepped for the visit; they ran things up flag poles, they did some research, and they sought clarification.
The upshot: they each sign a pledge saying that if elected to Government, they would support the implementation of all 55 recommendations as a matter of urgency. To the women in their electorates, their message is clear: We hear you and we support you.
Megaphone Journal is not here to sell you on the ALP, but credit where credit is due, these Labor MPs met with union women and agreed to take the actions that women of Australia have laid out for them. We intend to hold them to that.
The campaign for the implementation of the Respect@Work Report’s recommendations will continue, as well as the struggle for gender equality in our society. Something is changing. Twelve months ago, union members would never have landed a meeting with any Liberal MP. Now we’ve had one.
We might soon have another, and with a sitting Treasurer no less.