Equal Pay Day rally 09.06.10
Supporters of Equal Pay gather at Federation Square before marching up to Parliament. Photo by Michelle Ryan.

Equal Pay and Better Jobs for Women

Women doing the same job as men are supposed to be paid the same by law. However, many women still find themselves underpaid and too often miss out on the best jobs, resulting in a 18% gender pay gap. Unions believe everyone’s work should be valued properly. Closing the pay gap and providing more opportunities for working women are major priorities for unions.

Valuing women’s work
Unequal pay or “pay inequity” can be measured in two ways. First, as a direct comparison between a male and female employee doing the same work but earning a different salary, including penalty rates, overtime and bonuses.

Secondly, it is measured by the difference in pay between industry sectors with a greater value placed on some types of work compared with others.

Traditionally, industries with a majority of female workers have attracted lower pay rates than male-dominated industries.

This difference in “value” is partly historical, emanating from a time when women were not regarded as “breadwinners” nor welcome in most parts of the workforce. “Women’s work” was, and still is, a term used to downplay the value of women’s skills.

Male-dominated industries have also traditionally been more industrially organized, with better pay and conditions hard won through decades of negotiation, disputes and legal rulings.

These historic differences and attitudes are still reflected in the pay packets of women and practices of many workplaces today, resulting in a persistent wage gap that remains stuck at 18% in 2010.

  • Women in full-time paid work still earn 18% less than men or $1 million less over a lifetime
  • Women are now more likely to have a tertiary qualification than men, but women graduates will earn $2000 less than male graduates and $7500 less by the fifth year after graduation
  • Fewer than 2% of ASX 200 companies have a female CEO and only 1 in 12 board directors are women
  • Women retire with less than half the amount of savings in their superannuation accounts compared with men
  • Under the former Coalition Government’s WorkChoices laws, the pay gap widened for the first time in 25 years, as thousands of women lost penalty rates and other important job conditions and minimum wages were cut in real terms.

Equal Pay Case
A landmark equal pay case by unions is underway to secure equal pay for women that work in the social and community services sector.

These workers look after the homeless, the disabled, children at risk, the elderly and other vulnerable people in our society. Yet they are among the lowest paid workers in Australia, largely because their work has been historically viewed as “women’s work”.
The case will be the first to test the new equal pay provisions of the Fair Work Act and unions hope it will help establish an equal pay standard for other industries.

Hearings at Fair Work Australia will commence in Melbourne 31 January.

Equal Pay Alliance
Women now make up half the Australian workforce. They are more skilled, more educated and taking up jobs at a faster rate than at any other time in Australia’s history. Yet their work remains undervalued. Even now, full-time working women still earn 18% less than men.

The Equal Pay Alliance represents 150 Australian organisations and thousands of women across business, unions and community groups who have joined together to actively seek and support practical action to end decades of inequity. Read more on how to join the alliance.

Review of the Equal Pay laws
In 2010, there were recommendations from several government reviews and parliamentary inquiries identifying barriers holding women back from earning, saving and being valued equally at work. The Equal Pay Alliance campaigned for the following:

  • More flexible work arrangements
  • Accessible, affordable, good quality out-of-school care and childcare
  • Reporting and auditing of equal pay by government agencies
  • Valuation and proper funding of wages for work traditionally carried out by women
  • More opportunities to build skills and participate in the workforce, especially for mothers and older women

What’s next
In May 2011, Fair Work Australia, recognised the merits of the unions’ claim, and  made a preliminary ruling acknowledging a gender gap in Australia’s social and community sector workers.  The ruling was good news for the 200,000 workers in the female-dominated SACS sector, and also a milestone in seeking wage justice for women in all lines of work across Australia.

In November 2011, the Federal Government announced its commitment to fund its share of pay rises averaging 20% and up to 33% in some cases for social and community sector workers. Unions are calling on those state and territory governments, who have yet to commit to funding equal pay, to follow in the Federal Government's footsteps.

On 1 February 2012, a historic decision on the path to pay justice for women was made as a Fair Work Australia ruling gave social and community sector workers pay increases of between 23% and 45% over the next eight years, beginning on 1 December.

National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling Report
National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling Factsheet
Equal Pay Alliance Breakfast flyer
Equal Pay Alliance Breakfast Case Study
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