Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union

 

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ACTU Congress: Women in unions - room for improvement

THE last three ACTU Presidents have been women, but our unions want to do better in promoting our female members towards leadership roles.

This week unions at the ACTU Congress voted to pursue an equal representation of women and men within all elected positions at the peak union body.

The vote followed the latest Women in Unions Survey, which showed that although the percentage of women and men members is roughly equal across the union movement, women are still under-represented in leadership positions.

The Survey of 21 unions – including the AMWU - found that the percentage of women in national union leadership roles had increased from 28% in 1999 to 40% in 2015.

With the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that 49% of union members are women, the female leadership percentage represents a 9% gender gap.

Women were also under-represented on national councils, at national conferences and at ACTU Congress.

At this year’s Congress, 38% of delegates are women, a drop of 10% from 2009.

Australian Services Union leader Linda White, who moved the ACTU’s 50-50 gender motion, noted the number of “grey beards” at the ACTU leadership table.

Our AMWU National President Andrew Dettmer seconded her motion, stating that Australian unions had to makes positive moves to implement their good intentions for female membership.

“I think the blokes have got away with it for far too long,” he told Congress.

He spoke of the challenges of  increasing membership among women then empowering them, particularly in metals manufacturing which has 11 per cent of female members.

Mr Dettmer said manufacturing job losses often fell disproportionately upon women in processing jobs.

Mr Dettmer said the AMWU wanted to improve its performance in creating a space for women to be active and take leadership.

The 21 unions surveyed reported a range of strategies to improve representation of women, with half saying they had specific recruitment measures to encourage women’s participation.

More unions are pursuing family-friendly provisions, with an increasing number of clauses relating to part-time work, job-sharing arrangements and extended unpaid parental leave.

Eighty-five per cent reported having mechanisms in place to ascertain women’s priorities in bargaining and campaigns, a dramatic increase on the 43% reported in 2010.

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  • Senior Lecturer at WSU. Journal of Sociology. Social class, gender, family, education and work. My views are my own.