ACTU President Jennie George discusses strategies to ensure women’s representation in the 1998 elections and the skills needed to recruit and organise women members.

First, let me thank you for the invitation to launch this study. It gives me great pleasure to do so.


Second, let me congratulate the NTEU on organising this Women’s Conference. We shouldn’t take these occasions for granted especially in the current climate when we are seeing many advances for women wound back.


Women’s Conferences were one of the first demands made by women activists in unions as an important step in both involving women in unions and in promoting policies and strategies of particular importance to women.


The agenda of this Conference reflects why that is the case still with its inclusion yesterday of workshops on:



  • strategies to ensure women’s representation in the 1998 elections; Þ skills needed in recruiting and organising women members.



Today you are dealing with enterprise bargaining and its impact on women and it is good to see the concrete information that you have before you in relation to that.


I want, in launching your Pay Equity Study, to concentrate on the issue – unsurprisingly ~ of pay rates.


The ACTU has been pursuing equal pay for many years now ~ we had our first policy in 1948. It is worth remembering the contribution of those former women activists who put this issue on our union agenda so long ago.


We had our major victories in progressing that longstanding goal in the 1969 equal pay for equal work and 1972 equal pay for work of equal value test cases. Our award system and Industrial Relations Commission have been most important in narrowing the wages gap between men and women in Australia.


In the documentation you have been provided on the Enterprise Bargaining NTEU notes that “the award system is the NTEU’s preferred vehicle for maintaining wages and conditions.”


When you compare award rates of pay in 1996 women earned 91.4% of the pay that men did. That is, comparing full-time, non-managerial adults, i.e., like-with-like.


When you look at the over-award payments of those same categories of workers, i.e., full-time, non-managerial – women earn only 48.2% of men’s over-awards (1996).


This is a critical issue in the context of attempts to decentralise our system of pay negotiations.


On top of a move to enterprise bargaining ~ which the ACTU supported so long as it was on top of a strong and relevant award system ~ we now have pressure on employees to accept individual contracts.


These contracts will have a disastrous affect on women workers in particular given the statistical evidence about how badly women face in negotiations for over-award payments.


That is why the waterfront dispute has been so important for all of us. Individual contracts and de-unionisation go hand-in-hand. These strategies have a single objective ~ to reduce wages and conditions. That is why we must resist both.


Our present strategies for dealing with equal pay are first to maintain the relevance of awards.


The result in the recent national wage case the Safety Net Review ~ Wages decision of 29 April 1998 has been important in that regard.


This decision awarded a $14 increase in award rates up to $550, $12 in award rates between $550 and $700 and $10 for rates above $700 a week.


Given the Government proposed an $8 increase only in award rates up to $451, Peter Reith’s attempts to take some credit for these increases is sickening in the extreme ~ but as we have seen especially in recent days, only to be expected.


We are also of course fighting to retain as much in awards as possible in response to the Government’s attempts to strip awards to only core conditions.


Our other specific strategy to achieve equal pay relates to over-awards and the Commission’s powers to make orders to ensure equal remuneration.


The Commission has had this power since 1994. The present Government tried to take it away but the relevant provisions were restored in the Senate following an intensive campaign by unions and women’s organisations.


The ACTU has had a good deal of success in negotiating wage increases for women using these provisions.


We currently have the first case before the Commission. This involves about 300 Process Workers and Packers employed at HPM in Sydney. These women are receiving between $30 and $80 less than male General Hands and Storemen. The women are on the same or higher award classifications and have jobs that require higher skills according to the Metal Industry Award Competency Standards process.


The Commission has said we have to do a “traditional work value inquiry” before any assessment can be made as to whether the women’s work is of equal value to the men’s work. We are now hoping to commence that work value inquiry this month ~ we are awaiting a decision of the Commission as to if, how and when that will proceed.


In identifying these cases the ACTU has been asking unions to ask a simple question in respect to all of their workplaces:


“how much do the women and men earn?”


It is surprising how hard it is to get that question asked and perhaps not so surprising even harder to get it answered.


Which brings me to the Report I am launching today.


I am pleased that the NTEU has asked the question and sought to analyse the answer as comprehensively as possible.


The results are here in the Report, “Gender Pay Equity In Higher Education.”


This report is the result of a study by Belinda Probert, Peter Ewer and Kim Whiting and I understand Belinda has been talking to you this morning.


This shows an income gap of $439 a fortnight between male and female academics and $165 between male and female general staff.


We need to carefully analyse the reasons given for these differences such as part-time/full-time status, qualifications and number of years worked.


The Report also clearly shows that the rise in casual staff in higher education institutions is an issue that needs to be addressed.


In all industries despite a depressing commonality in the existence of a pay gap between men and women, the causes of that gender gap in pay rates can often vary markedly.


In addition, specific industry characteristics might mask the existence, or true depth, of a problem. For instance, in journalism many women receive higher over-award rates than men. But on investigation we believe this relates to a generally lower grading given to women journalists who seem to be given money instead of higher gradings when they ask for promotions.


So the issues identified in the Report of the impact of employment levels and qualifications and years of experience on wage rates of men and women in your sector needs to be assessed very carefully.


You will need to devise a range of strategies to deal with these issues.


As the international conventions on which the equal remuneration provisions are based recognise, the issue of equal pay is inter-related with women’s general position in society and in particular, issues like family and domestic responsibilities. All of which is recognised in the Report.


In closing, I commend this Report to you and encourage you to consider it very closely and I wish you well in developing strategies to overcome the very real problem of pay inequity that it identifies.


ACTU – ACTU President, Jennie George

Launch of NTEU National Pay Equity Study