9793 9708 (AWatW Office)

9793 9062 (Vietnamese Workers)

9793 9150 (Chinese Workers)

View in your language

Asian Women at Work in a Nutshell

Asian Women at Work is an active and exciting organisation, empowering migrant women in low paid and precarious employment through a range of programs from outreach, support groups and seminars through to leadership development and facilitating their involvement in advocacy on behalf of themselves.

We commenced in October 1993 as a project of URM Australia and incorporated as Asian Women at Work Inc in May 1995.

Migrant working women are generally isolated from information and support services by long hours of work in low paid jobs, and their limited English skills.  In addition bullying and exploitation experienced by many in the workplaces reduces their confidence about seeking support. Our unique services involve extensive outreach to these women, and a offering of services in evenings and on weekends to increase accessibility.

AWatW is building a support network of migrant women workers, based around local branches, capable of reaching out to hundreds of migrant women workers in each local area. A key focus of our work is to build and strengthen the capacity of the target communities, as well as build links with the mainstream local communities in which they live.  Leadership development and training is central to our model of work, which is ultimately building communities.

We are building on the strengths and responding to the needs of these women and their families. While a common element is their working situations, we are not only responding to their workplace issues, as unions do, but to the full range of issues in their lives.

Our current membership is 2000.  Through these women members we are also reaching thousands of others in their families. Everyone who participates in our activities is invited to become a members but we assist many who are not our members.

We currently have over 25 established social, educational and support groups, most of which are run by leaders from the target group. We work in six branch areas, with more than 100 migrant women workers involved in leadership roles in their groups and branches.  We run at least 50 group information sessions per year and have more than 2800 contacts assisting people individually.

Our Target Group

  • Asian migrant women workers in low paid and precarious employment across Sydney, including clothing outworkers, clothing factory workers, cleaners, restaurant workers, maufacturing workers, nail and beauty workers, aged care workers, child care workers and so on.
  • Many workers receive below legal wages and conditions, many do not speak out about this for fear of losing their job
  • Bullying and harassment and other OH&S issues are common they have limited access to government and community services and information due to long hours of work they have limited opportunities to learn English due to long hours of work
  • Range of family situations including single parents and two parent families
  • Chinese and Vietnamese women are largest groups in membership and networks
  • Partnership work with Khmer, Filipino, Indonesian, Lao and Korean communities.
  • Through assisting these women and building their sense of community, and building their capacity they are improving the lives of their families and communities.
  • Our target area is Sydney metropolitan area with a focus on southern, western and south western Sydney.  Many women from Northern Sydney travel to participate in our activities in Western Sydney.

Our Activities with Migrant Women Workers

Outreach – to individuals and groups through a range of mechanisms including promotion of evening telephone and information service, promotion of our activities in ethnic media, visits to workplaces to deliver information kits in first language around a range of information, opening up many activities to new participants.  Single biggest form of recruitment is our own members inviting others to be involved.

Individual support – information, referral, casework, assistance with understanding and completing documents.  Including evening telephone information and referral service every Tuesday evening until 8pm, in Chinese and Vietnamese.

Support groups – through leisure groups, English classes, locality based groups, industry based groups (especially clothing outworkers and aged care) and occasionally groups based around workers from one company.

Seminars and Information Sessions – generally run in support groups or at a branch level, although some run for the whole of the organisation.  Issues are identified by the women themselves.  Rights at Work, Women's Health, Centrelink and Tax issues for low income women, and parenting are popular topics.

Community Building Social Activities – as an attractive way to bring busy women together with their families, and when they are together to build community, engage with Australian society, pass on information, discuss issues and develop leadership skills amongst those who assist in organising and running the program.

Leadership Development and Training – informal training, formal training, mentoring, creating opportunities and experiences eg Outworker leaders identified and developed in English classes, now being invited to come together and give feedback on proposals for OH&S project.

Branch Development – establishing leadership structures among the target group and planning processes by the target group.  So far we have  undertaken initial processes in five branch areas, with a fifth underway.  The branches are named for the suburb where activity is centred but includes surrounding areas.  The six branch areas are Cabramatta, Bankstown, Hurstville, Blacktown, Auburn and Inner West.  We also want to develop branches in northern Sydney.

Engaging women in local issues and connecting with local community through Branches.

Work and family policy issues for migrant women – combine monitoring issues for our members, monitoring areas of policy development, facilitating understanding of policy environment and content for members, facilitating Asian women workers role in speaking out on those issues.  Through branches and small groups we consult and inform across the organisation.  We give staff tools to do this with each of their groups.  Establish action groups from among the target group to take these issues up with decision makers, facilitate them having a voice.

Migrant Women Workers Forums – seek to hold every three to four years if funding is available.  Aim to bring women together as a body for information and training, recognising they are not alone, building a common identity and identifying key issues they want to work on  as a group.  September 2006 forum funded by NSW Office for Women was very successful, attended by 179 migrant women from 5 language groups, over 100 of whom were from our target group and the others supporters.  In May 2010 we held a National Forum funded by the Federal Office for Women attended by over 300 women, 207 of them migrant women workers from precarious employment.

Action and Advocate Groups – Invite leaders from groups to become involved in taking up particular issues the Forums or other processes have identified as key issues.  Work together to plan and undertake activities that will raise the profile of these issues to decision makers and the broader community.  For example we had an Action Group which met regularly for 3 years and worked around  industrial relations legislation, firstly raising concerns around the impacts of WorkChoices on migrant women worker and later lobbying in relation to the content of the Fair Work Bill.  We also have an ongoing Outworker Advocates group.

Special Projects – Taking up specific issues.  For example previous Outworker Radio Program and current Outworker OH&S Outreach and Education projects.

NB  We run our activities from our office in Bankstown and at a range of community centres and other venues in Blacktown, Auburn, Hurstville, Cabramatta and so on.

Some of Our Major Achievements

  • Successfully lobbied for and participated as a lead partner in the implementation of NSW Behind the Label Outworker Strategy 2002-2005
  • Published and launched “Cries from the Workplace” - stories of 20 migrant women workers from Sydney 2007
  • Influenced the shape of the Fair Work Act and modern awards to better respond to the needs of and issues for migrant women workers 2008-2009
  • Ran more than 35 support groups for migrant women workers in 2008-2009 financial year, 15 of which have become ongoing support groups.
  • Brought 207 migrant women workers and another 100 supporters together for a national forum for migrant women in precarious employment entitled “Women Raising Our Voices” 2010

Our Strengths

  • Unique target group – no-one else reaching out to them, providing relevant or accessible services including evening and weekend activities
  • Responding to needs at the grassroots
  • Getting migrant women involved in addressing their own needs
  • Important model – bringing together outreach, support, training, leadership development, community development, advocacy and policy work
  • Facilitating the target group's capacity to advocate and campaign for themselves
  • We are a membership based organisation with everyone who seeks assistance from AWatW or is encountered through outreach invited to become a member of AWatW.
  • Our members describe AWatW as a voice for migrant women workers in the broader community, and as a bridge to the wider community.
  • Our Management Committee are Chinese and Vietnamese women from our target group and are supported by a small Consultative Group involving community workers, academics and union officials.

Additional information