New evidence that women will finish their working lives $1 million behind their male counterparts confirms the urgent need for paid maternity leave and other workplace policies to help women balance work and family, achieve equal pay and remove barriers to satisfying, secure career opportunities.

Australian women make up half the nation’s workforce and are more educated and skilled than at any other time in the nation’s history, but earn about $1 million less than men during their working life, according to the latest AMP Natsem Income and Wealth Report.

“Women form a fundamental part of our economy. Yet their skills, knowledge and qualifications are lost to workplace and the economy when they take time out have children or need to care for others,” says ACTU senior industrial officer Cath Bowtell.

“They face a number of barriers in returning to work and many simply drop out. We need stronger measures to support women in these critical years when they’re juggling careers and family.

“Paid maternity leave, the right to request flexible working arrangements and quality, affordable childcare would maximise the opportunity for the many women wanting to remain in work, develop their skills and retain wage parity,” says Ms Bowtell.

The report showed a huge difference the number of professional women with access to paid maternity leave (more than 50%) compared with those in less skilled jobs

(8% in clerical, sales, services). Public sector workers (76%) took paid maternity leave compared with just 25% in the private sector, many of whom have no access to it.

“A national paid maternity leave scheme must be included in the May Federal Budget to ensure the Australian economy is able to run at maximum potential by making the most of its increasingly skilled, educated female workforce and that no woman is disadvantaged by having a baby,” says Ms Bowtell.

The ACTU will make a formal submission on these issues to the Federal Government’s Pay Equity and Female Workforce Participation Inquiry tomorrow morning (April 3).

Other ACTU recommendations include:

  • mandatory auditing of pay data to ensure women are being paid the same as male employees
  • better flexible work arrangements (including the right to appeal an employer’s unreasonable refusal
  • establishing a pay equity commissioner to investigate suspected pay inequity in workplaces
  • a more proactive approach by government agencies to assist workplaces to address pay inequity.

What: Pay Equity and Female Workforce Participation Inquiry

When: 8.30am, Friday, 3 April

Where: Room G1, 55 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne