Sally McManus “A feminised industry should no longer mean a low paid industry”

by Freya Lucas

October 05

Addressing the John Curtain Research Centre gala dinner on 4 October 2018, Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary, Sally McManus, called for the appointment of an independent umpire in the negotiations of enterprise bargaining agreements.

 

The aim of appointing an umpire, Ms McManus said, would be to assist parties to reach agreement, make bargaining more efficient and resolve situations when groups cannot negotiate conflict to the point of common ground.

 

Ms McManus stated that the independent umpire should be also charged with the responsibility to drive out the inequities in Australia’s industries that exist based only on gender, before saying that a feminised industry should no longer mean a low – paid industry.

 

With data indicating that the majority of the workforce in the sector is female (94 per cent), and with the highest concentration of males being in vacation care (17 per cent) and outside school hours care (16 per cent) services, not early childhood, Ms McManus’ comments have gravitas for the early childhood sector.

 

Ms McManus’ comments on wage equity mirror recent wage equality issues raised within the sector, which culminated in a stop work action on 27 March 2018, in which some educators participated in a walk off in support of better pay.

 

Data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows female full-time employees in the early childhood sector were paid on average 31.9 per cent less than men in the same sector, compared with a national gender pay gap of 15.3 per cent. 

 

Terming the current enterprise bargaining system as narrow and restrictive, Ms McManus said that single enterprise bargaining had failed in so many industries because business owners are encouraged to undercut one another to compete on wage costs, described by Ms McManus as competing to race to the bottom.

 

With more than 70 per cent of early childhood educators award dependant (comparative with 20 per cent of the broader Australian workforce), and with opportunities for collective bargaining restricted by a fragmented sector, Ms McManus’ comments are timely. Latest figures from ACECQA show that 82 per cent of approved providers operate a single service, with 1 per cent of approved providers operating 25 services or more, reflecting the fragmentation outlined above.

 

McManus acknowledged that while enterprise bargaining did assist for some time in achieving productivity improvements, the improvements had been exhausted at the enterprise level. Describing the current process of conflict over wages as ritualised, McManus outlined that productivity and innovation had been cast aside in light of the narrow focus on wages and wage competition.

 

In order to create space for innovation and productivity, McManus said that workers must be able to negotiate across sectors and industries to establish a solid basis for more secure, fairly paid work. This would allow business owners and working people to come together to improve productivity, quality and innovate new products and services.

 

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