Women’s Focus

Women's Contact Officer

The SSTUWA recognises there are issues in workplaces and around the matter of work-life balance which have a particular focus for our female members.

Colleen Mack is the Field Officer (Women, Equity and Equal Opportunity), at the SSTUWA.

Stay informed on outcomes that affect you by checking your details are up-to-date here.

Women's Contact Officer Handbook

Anna Stewart Memorial Project

Each year the Anna Stewart Memorial Project is coordinated by UnionsWA. The first project was held in Victoria in 1984 and in Western Australia in 1986.

Over the week. participants see how unions are organised, become involved in current union issues and campaigns and visit workplaces.

The emphasis is on practical experiences - seeing the union in action rather than reading or hearing about it in theory.

A general plan of activity is mapped out in advance with the union and usually includes:

  • Two days formal training provided by UnionsWA.
  • Meeting members and working with organisers.
  • Attending meetings with other unions, women members, branch councils, work-site meetings and UnionsWA Executive and Council meetings.
  • Attending hearings in the Industrial Relations Commission.
  • Working with other union officials such as industrial and research officers.
  • Seeing how the union is organised and administered.
  • Undertaking a small but specific project for the union.
  • The opportunity to meet other participants, discuss their experiences and learn more about the issues confronting women in the workplace.

  • All women unionists are eligible to participate in the Project.

    Anna Stewart Biography

    Anna Stewart worked passionately and tirelessly to involve women directly in deciding on principles and priorities to put before unions and government in order to achieve real quality of status and opportunity for women.

    Her efforts achieved more in less than a decade working in the union movements than most of us will in a lifetime. Anna's work encapsulated her remarkable vision of women's lives - as they were - as she hoped they would be. Her commitment was expressed through all possible channels but particularly through the political and industrial wings of the labour movement.

    Anna entered the industrial arena at a time when women workers made up a third of the paid workforce but the few industries in which they were employed, were almost invariably at the unskilled and semi-skilled level. Women were poorly paid, lacked job security and job satisfaction and rarely had access to promotional opportunities. Anna developed a radical re- evaluation of the rights of female labour within the economy which led to a fundamental reappraisal of these issues throughout the labour movement.

    In 1974, the Federated Furnishing Trades Society of Australasia was looking for an "out of work journalist" to investigate and write a report on the effects of tariff charges on furniture imports. Anna, pregnant at the time, was employed by the union.

    The report completed, Anna secured a full-time position as research officer with that union. She immediately set about preparing a work value case for argument before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. That too, was successful.

    In the midst of preparing for this case, she spared no time in commencing negotiations with employers for the inclusion of maternity leave conditions into awards. Anna herself was very obviously pregnant with her child at the time.

    For many years, the issues of equal pay, maternity leave and childcare had been ignored.

    Anna's persuasiveness and commitment secured the employers' consent to maternity leave provisions becoming award conditions thereby averting the necessity for full-scale argument and justification by the union before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. When it finally went before the Commission for the official stamp of approval, all the parties were in total agreement. An incredible achievement - the first blue-collar union to achieve maternity leave provisions for its female members.

    Anna continued to articulate issues rationally and forcefully, winning respect and admiration from those for whom she worked as well as her opposition.

    When her youngest child was born he accompanied Anna on the job, out into the field gathering evidence and into the Commission to finally put submissions. She accommodated the needs of her young son either by breast-feeding in the Commission or by seeking an adjournment of proceedings.

    Anna set a precedent for many women who gained strength and confidence from her example of combining motherhood with a career. The Arbitration Commission, the union and employers all were sensitised directly to the needs of working mothers, particularly in relation to childcare.

    Both personally and industrially Anna made demands upon the social system and forced the work environment to accommodate the rights and needs of working women and their children. Her success in having those demands met offered hope and inspiration to all women who in the quest for personal survival, usually attempt to adjust themselves to the requirements of a social system which simultaneously demands cheap, female labour whilst conferring on women, sole responsibility for childcare.

    In 1975 Anna took up the position of Federal Research Officer with the Vehicle Builders Employees' Federation of Australia (VBEF). In this position she continued her role as an advocate and her efforts to improve "the lot" faced by women workers.

    A visit to the United States of America in that year strengthened Anna's resolve to achieve change for women in Australia. She returned stimulated and enthusiastic about the strength and impact of the women's movement in the United States.

    At the VBEF, Anna fought with an unmatched tenacity for the provision of childcare facilities in car plants, securing a consensus decision from union delegates to this effect. Anna headed a campaign by the union to drag sexual harassment into the light of day, condemning it as another facet of women's exploitation and convincing employers that the issue was an industrial one and needed to be dealt with, immediately, through industrial channels.

    As a result of her initiative all sexist language then existing in the awards was removed. Whilst at the VBEF she also worked and assisted on the ACTU Maternity Leave case. The case was presented to the public, especially to women workers, so successfully that the following twelve months witnessed a remarkable increase in the female membership of the unions. Anna headed the Media Liaison Committee and ensured that her former press colleagues gave good coverage of what was being achieved.

    At its Congress in 1977, the ACTU adopted the Working Women's Charter and set up the first Women's Committee of the ACTU. Anna was one of the founding members of that Committee - one of the four women chosen to be its nucleus, and remained an active force in that Committee working for the implementation of the Charter. Only a couple of weeks before her death she successfully argued the future program of the ACTU Women's Committee before the AM Executive.

    In 1980, after five years with the VBEF, Anna became a Senior Federal Industrial Officer with the Municipal Officers' Association (MOA) and in 1981 was thrown head first into a dispute with the Electricity Trust of South Australia over wages. Her resolve obtained a pre-Christmas salary increase by out-manoeuvring an employer strategy which would have been to the detriment of MOA members.

    At the MOA Anna initiated the establishment of Women's Committees in most State Branches. She developed a strong sexual harassment policy and laid the ground work for the development in industrial agreements and award conditions relating to sexual harassment. She also developed an affirmative action policy which the MOA adopted after her death, ensuring increased active participation by women in the union. This policy, calling for 25% of elected representatives to be women, was passed overwhelmingly at the 1983 MOA Federal Council.

    Women trade union officials themselves are susceptible to sexual harassment from employer representatives who stand to gain a tactical advantage if they can humiliate and degrade their industrial opponents. Anna was adept at dealing with such situations. Soon after her arrival at the MOA, in the course of negotiations with a group of South Australian employers she was taken to lunch at a "topless" restaurant. Anna coolly ignored their sexist pranks and retaliated by out-manoeuvring them in negotiations which resulted in large salary increases for MOA members.

    Anna secured remarkable gains, particularly for working women, directly for the members for whom she worked and indirectly for all women by setting precedents in a number of areas and by her own personal example. The influence of Anna's life and work remains immeasurable. She brought hope and support to women throughout the trade union movement, providing them with the strength and confidence to continue the fight.