JobWatch in Funding Fight
24 October 2011 at 11:23 am
|Image: JobWatch CEO Zana Blytheway says the thing that drives her the most is providing access to justice.|
Think you’re not getting paid the right hourly rate, or your shifts have been cut to the bone, you are doing an “unpaid trial” or you’ve been sacked because of something you posted on Facebook – JobWatch has often been the place for workers to get free legal advice.
In its heyday, the call centre at the Victorian Not for Profit assisted around 20,000 people a year with work related queries.
Workers on the telephone advice line – some of them volunteers, some of them labour lawyers, would talk callers trough their rights and responsibilities – advising them on everything from hourly rates to whether they had a potential claim for unfair dismissal.
After spending thirty years fighting for the rights of workers, Jobwatch, a Victorian based Not for Profit is now fighting for its own survival after deep funding cuts following a change of state government.
Zana Bytheway has been at JobWatch for 11 years, nine of them as the organisation’s CEO.
She has seen the organisation go from strength to strength on the back of state government funding however a change in government has lead to a reduction in funding with a sixty percent cut in recurrent funding from $871,000 to $371,000 a year.
There is now a petition on the JobWatch website which Ms Bytheway wants to send to Canberra to persuade the Federal government to step in and fill the funding gap.
Ms Bytheway is passionate about the organisation that she joined as a volunteer lawyer. She told Pro Bono Australia, “I was working in a private sector at (law firm) Galbally and O’Brien – in commercial law and I used to some pro bono assistance for Job Watch and really enjoyed that work.”
After taking maternity leave, in 2000 JobWatch asked “if I would help them out – it was perfect for me at the time. I really enjoyed the work and found it extremely rewarding – so stayed on and became principal solicitor and then CEO.”
She says, “The thing that drives me the most is providing access to justice – just being able to provide that to people who wouldn’t usually be able to get access to legal services and recover monies owed to them. These people would not have that without JobWatch.”
Ms Bytheway says knowing your rights at work doesn’t just help you legally but can be a great benefit psychologically. “Without work so much can deteriorate – if you are aggrieved about your work – and feel there is nowhere to go, that can be a terrible feeling.
“Assessing your rights (if you have been unfairly dismissed) is an important part of the healing process and moving on. Brewing, feeling bitter and done over is common but if you can have access to justice, that is really important.”
JobWatch has some high-profile supporters including ABC radio host Jon Faine and comedian Catherine Deveny – but goodwill in the community may not be enough to save the organisation.
Reflecting on heading up a not for profit, Ms Bytheway says one of the disadvantages of working in the sector is “the precarious nature of funding – and the continuous battle to have secure funding because without it proper planning including projects cannot go ahead.
“But the Not for Profit sector brings it own rewards as we have been able to provide a free and confidential service to Victorians. It’s wonderful being able to assist people in this way – and not having to look at your billable hours.”
For more information visit: www.jobwatch.org.au