Australia: 36 years post-ratifying the UN Equal Remuneration Conv, Women still await Equal Pay Print E-mail

On the brink of a Federal Election in 2010, a Pay Equity Policy is long overdue

By Diann Rodgers-Healey

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The Australian government needs to be congratulated on legislating Australia’s first universal paid parental leave scheme. As this historic legislation supported by the coalition, means that from 2011 parents will be eligible to receive $570 a week in parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child and that the leave can be shared between parents, it is hoped that the government and other parties will now address another key issue for women to enable Australia to catch up with the rest of the developed world. According to the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report, on wage equality for similar work, Australia ranked 60th globally, and in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity, Australia was 19th. In the 2008 Global Gender Gap Report, Australia ranked 21st out of 130 countries in the Gender wage gap index, but slipped to 20th in 2009.

So, to make real progress in advancing the status of women in the workplace, the issue of Pay Equity must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The 2009 Making it Fair Report by the Australian House Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations stated that whilst Australia’s gender pay gap had for some time been similar to those of comparable OECD countries, recently, Australia has seen an increase in the gender pay gap.  

The Report indicated that trends within industries and under various wage setting mechanisms may be responsible for up to 89 per cent of the difference. Quoting, the 2008 Workplace Industrial Relations Survey in Victoria, it found that female workers were less likely to be paid the average for an occupation in the workplace for all occupational groups. Gender biases in remuneration practices according to Diversity Council Australia were stated in this Report as possibly resulting from the use of biased standardized job evaluation schemes which value ‘masculine’ skills over ‘feminine’ skills; discretionary managerial decisions about remuneration;  managerial judgments made about performance and the person’s value to the organisation; providing career development opportunities for men and training for current jobs for women, and valuing and therefore remunerating more highly paid occupations which traditionally are men’s occupations. The New South Wales Office for Women’s Policy considered that it is the structural features linked to women’s working patterns in the Australian labour market that disproportionately impact on women in the negotiation of wages.

In line with the recommendations of the Making it Fair Report, women want to know for the coming election, which leader and political party will demonstrate leadership in implementing and monitoring pay equity strategies across industries as well as within occupations in Australia?  

Pay equity is a basic human right. It is not only important for Australia’s future prosperity and economic productivity, but formulates Australia’s commitment to the UN Convention on Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (ILO100) which Australia ratified in 1974. To advance the status of women in the workplace, Australia’s must enact legislative reform to ensure that women and men receive equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey is the Founder and Director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women
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