Women to the front! It was today in 1969 that legendary unionist Zelda D’Aprano chained herself to the Commonwealth building to protest for equal pay for women.
You’ll probably recognise this iconic image of Zelda chained to the government building. It’s in history books across Australian high schools, profiled in museums across the nation and referenced in Australian literature. But if you don’t – not to stress! That’s what we’re here for.
So what happened?
Zelda was a union organiser for the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union and quickly gained a reputation for her courage and willingness to call out sexism in workplaces and within the union movement itself.
During her time at the movement, her union was one of the many that brought forward a historic equal pay case forward alongside the ACTU, represented by union advocate and soon to be Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.
They had a small win. Commissioners had legislated ‘equal pay for equal work’, but it didn’t take into consideration fields that were female-dominated and only covered under 18% of the female workforce. The scope was too small and something had to be done.
D’Aprano was not happy with the result and decided something needed to be done about it. And she did. Flash forward to this photo. Zelda chained herself to the commonwealth building while women placarded beside the building gaining the attention of media outlets and ongoers.
Zelda glibly reported that “There was just sufficient chain to allow the door to open slightly, and people had to bend down and crawl in sideways to enter the building. This was so undignified for the “important” people.”
Zelda would go on to create a Women’s Action Committee with women across the movement and later the equal pay case would be reheard in front of the arbitration commission, only this time, they won!
The Commissioner ruled that women should be paid for “equal pay for work of equal value” This would encompass women in female-dominated industries.
Zelda’s action on October 21st 1969 in front of the commonwealth building had a lasting impact that millions of women would reap the reward of for the years to come.
Interested in learning more?
You can read ACTU Historian Dr Liam Byrne’s summary of Zelda’s amazing life and iconic contributions to the union movement