Labor says it’s time to close the gender pay gap, starting with ECEC

by Freya Lucas

December 19

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has spoken about its plans to help close the gender pay gap, through strengthening the ability of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for workers in female-dominated sectors, such as early childhood education and care (ECEC).

 

In a joint statement by ALP leader Bill Shorten, ALP Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek, and Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O’Connor, the ALP has committed to changing the Fair Work Act to “make it clear that the Fair Work Commission must consider pay equity a central objective of the workplace relations system”.

 

The ALP has vowed to give the Commission greater capacity and funding to conduct pay equity reviews and order pay increases in “undervalued feminised industries (sic)”, saying that “low-paid workers should not have to rely on fighting complex, expensive legal cases to secure a decent wage rise”.

 

The comments from the ALP echo those of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary, Sally McManus, who used an address to the John Curtin Research Centre Gala Dinner to call for the appointment of an “independent umpire” to drive out the inequalities in Australia’s industries (sic) which exist based only on gender, before saying that “a feminised industry should no longer mean a low-paid industry”.

 

The ECEC sector has advocated strongly for wage equality in 2018, culminating in stop work actions, and a case being brought to Fair Work.

 

The proposed ALP solution would see pay equity reviews conducted by a new presidential member of the Commission, supported by an expert pay equity panel.

 

“We don’t need to compare female-dominated jobs with male-dominated jobs to know that female-dominated industries are often poorly paid – that’s just a fact. So we will change the Fair Work Act to make it clear that establishing undervaluation of female-dominated industries does not require a male comparator,” the ministers said.

 

The proposed changes aim to end “one of the most persistent forms of inequality in the Australian economy” with the ALP highlighting that “when you consider total remuneration, women still get paid about 23 per cent less than men”.

 

The ALP indicated that one of the key drivers of the gender pay gap is that “the work in traditionally female-dominated industries is undervalued”.

 

Outlining statistics which say that the average woman working in professions such as health care, social assistance and education is paid around $30,000 less than the average man working in the more male dominated industries such as mining and construction, the ministers said “Australia’s equal pay laws are not working well enough to tackle this problem. Of the 21 applications made since 1994, only one equal remuneration order has been made by the Fair Work Commission.”

 

ECEC recently brought a case before Fair Work in relation to the gender pay gap, which was dismissed when “the unions failed to provide any contemporary evidence to support their claims” (as reported by the Australian Financial Review).

 

The ALP’s commitment to ECEC comes at a time when Australian women have recorded the slowest pace of economic progress since 2014, according to the latest Financy Women’s Index.

 

The Financy Women’s Index (FWX) Report, measures economic progress across education, work, pay, leadership positions, and superannuation.  

 

Founder of the Financy Index, Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, said that the superannuation gender gap remains too wide, and that the annual pace of progress is 1.7 points lower in 2018 and has travelled at its slowest pace since 2014.

 

Ms Hartge-Hazelman also said “Economic equality is at least a decade away as long-standing imbalances persist particularly in labour force and superannuation.”

 

“The Financy Index reveals that Australia is screaming out for systemic change. In no other endeavour in business would we continue to invest so much precious time and energy into initiatives that gain so little traction in improving the pathways to women’s economic progress.” Association of Financial Advisors Inspire National Chair Kate McCallum said.  

 

A summary of the ALP commitments in relation to the gender pay gap is as follows:

 

  • Make gender pay equity an object of the Fair Work Act;

 

  • Establish a statutory Equal Remuneration Principle, to guide the Fair Work Commission’s consideration of whether feminised industries are paid fairly;

 

  • Establish a new Pay Equity Panel within the Commission led by a new Presidential Member with specific expertise in gender pay equity; and,

 

  • Fund the Commission to establish a Pay Equity Unit that will provide expert research support during equal remuneration matters, and more generally.

 

The ALP said that the new commitments build on previous measures promised to combat the gender pay gap, including:

 

  • Reversing cuts to penalty rates, which disproportionately impact women;

 

  • Investing $400 million to boost women’s superannuation balances;

 

  • Setting staged and progressive targets to close the gender pay gap, and making an annual statement to Parliament on progress;

 

  • Legislating so companies with more than 1,000 employees have to report their gender pay gap publicly;

 

  • Changing the Fair Work Act to prohibit pay secrecy clauses and give employees the right to disclose (or not disclose) their pay;

 

  • Requiring the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to publish a list that shows whether a company has undertaken a gender pay gap audit and reported the results to its board; and,

 

  • Requiring all Australian Government departments and agencies to conduct gender pay audits within the first year of a Labor Government.

 

Speaking with the ABC News Breakfast program, Ms Plibersek said Anybody who has seen what early childhood educators do, anybody who has visited a childcare centre would know how hard they work, they know how complex the work is, the training you need to do it appropriately, and when you look at the underpay it’s very hard to imagine that it’s for any reason other than this is a female dominated industry.”

 

More information about the proposed Labor changes can be found here.

 

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