Australian women risk losing pay, skills and access to decent work as a result of the Global Financial Crisis unless employers do more to protect jobs and we see the introduction of a Government-funded paid maternity leave scheme, say unions.
In a statement to mark 2009 International Women’s Day (on March 8), ACTU President Sharan Burrow said new international data showed women were being hit hard during the economic crisis.
The impact of the crisis could result in Australian women losing important pay equity gains and following in the footsteps of other countries, already in deep recession unless measures were put in place to improve pay equity, she said.
Women are over-represented in the most precarious employment, particularly low-paid and part-time work, and are vulnerable to losing their jobs in short-sighted business decisions, like that of Pacific Brands.
“There are a number of reasons why women still earn so much less than men, including overt and subtle discrimination against women,” said Ms Burrow, who is also president of the International Trade Union Confederation.
“There is a lack of transparency about how the private sector handle promotions to better-paid jobs. Entrenched discrimination and lack of maternity leave for women are all contributing factors.
“Women were hurt by the industrial relations policies of the Howard Government, and during the WorkChoices era the pay equity gap grew wider after many women were forced onto individual contracts that stripped their pay to the barest levels, in many cases underpaid them, and removed their rights and job security.
“The Federal Government’s pay equity inquiry is still underway and there is no time to lose on this. We urge the government to act sooner rather than later to set up a Pay Equity Commissioner in Fair Work Australia to monitor mandatory annual reporting of gender pay data by all employers, including small businesses.
“With newspaper reports that the cost of a paid maternity leave scheme may be less than originally estimated, this is also a measure that is long overdue and must be bedded down in the 2009 Budget.”
An international study of 300,000 women and men in 20 countries has revealed that the pay gap between men and women worldwide may be much higher than official government figures. The ITUC, which commissioned the study believes the true rate is around 22% – higher than government estimates of 16.5%.
But the study also found that trade union membership has a positive influence on wage equality, and the gap between male and female earnings was smaller when there were collectively negotiated agreements in the workplace.
The ACTU estimates the pay equity gap in Australia is 16% but this varies between states and industries – in WA the pay equity gap is 28%.
The full report, Gender (in)Equality in the Labour Market, is available at