Equal Pay Day:

Why Australian women need to change the rules

Friday 31 August was Equal Pay Day. This date illustrates the 62 additional days from the end of the previous financial year that women must work to earn the same amount as men earn in 12 months.

Equal Pay Day is an important reminder of the continuing barriers women face in accessing the same opportunities and benefits as men in Australian workplaces.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has calculated the national gender pay gap as 14.6% for full time employees; a difference of $244.80 per week. While this figure has declined from 15.3% in the past 12 months, we cannot become complacent. There is still much work to do as the national equal pay gap has hovered between 15% and 19% for the past two decades.

The gender pay gap is a symptom of a broader issue. It reflects the fact that women’s work is traditionally undervalued and women are often paid less than men. Average full time salaries are lower for women than men in every occupation and industry in Australia. Women are under represented in senior executive and management roles and female dominated occupations and industries attract lower pay than male dominated ones.

Research shows that the main factors contributing to the gender pay gap are:

discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions

women and men working in different industries and different jobs, with female dominated industries and jobs attracting lower wages

women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work

lack of work place flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities, especially in leadership role, and

women’s greater time out of the workplace impacting career progression and opportunities.

Pay inequity for our members in schools and early childhood sector is a reality.

In the early childhood sector, there is a significant discrepancy between the wages and conditions of early childhood teachers working in long day care centres and in some community preschools/kindergartens, compared to those conditions of their colleagues in schools.

In particular, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch members in many early childhood education centres are experiencing significant pay inequity. Despite having the same degree, the same accreditation and the same HELP debt, first year preschool teachers could expect to earn $16,583 less than a graduate teacher in a primary school. This difference widens every year until after nine years, the early childhood teacher experiences a gap of $33, 431 per year.

In schools, pay inequity can also be a matter of equity of access – to appropriate classification of support staff, access to positions of added responsibility and other such leadership promotions.

The IEUA national equal remuneration case for early childhood teachers is now before the Fair Work Commission. The case is brought under the Equal Remuneration Provisions of the Fair Work Act, which requires that the value of the work of an early childhood teacher to be measured against a male comparator of equal qualification and responsibilities of work.

The case has required extensive preparation by the IEUA legal team and relies on IEU members coming forward to present witness statements. It argues that early childhood teachers are paid less than teachers in schools, despite having the same degrees and undertaking the same accreditation process, because they are mostly women. The case further seeks the same rates of pay for early childhood teachers as applies to male primary school teachers and male professionals such as engineers. The IEUA claim is based on the qualifications required and the responsibilities of the work, which all form part of the ‘work value’ of the job.

Women currently make up 47% of Australian workplaces and more than 70% of education employees, and yet, there are still far too many challenges confronting women in the workplace.

These challenges exist because workplace rules are broken. Because of Australia’s broken workplace rules, women get paid less. Women are increasingly locked out of a secure retirement, women make up the majority of workers reliant on a minimum wage, women are more vulnerable to exploitative, casual and insecure forms of work and due to deep rooted social norms, women face more disruptions over their working life by taking on the majority of the caring responsibilities for children, family members and/or ageing parents.

But if women are hit hardest by the broken rules, women also stand to gain the most from changing them!

Women are the majority in groups which will benefit from the restoration of a living wage and penalty rates, a fairer and more independent workplace umpire, more equitable working arrangements for the 85% of Australians who have caring responsibilities, changes to the superannuation system to ensure that no one retires in poverty, and securing 10 days paid Family and Domestic Violence leave for all Australian workers.

What can IEU members do to fight inequality? Join the ACTU Change the Rules Campaign.

IEU members can join with other union members in the ACTU Change the Rules campaign to:

Fight for pay equity to be central in the bargaining framework and award review processes; to establish an expert panel of the Fair Work Commission to hear equal remuneration claims and to develop alternative mechanisms that can be used to address the undervaluing of women’s work.

Fight for more equitable superannuation pathway.

Fight for the right to part time or reduced hours and the right to return when caring responsibilities have reduced or ended.

Fight for a minimum of 10 days paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave in the National Employment Standards.

Fight for a living wage, 60% of the median wage, as the legal minimum.

Fight for secure jobs.

Without changes to the rules, working women will continue to be impacted by the gender pay gap and the challenges of low pay, insecure work, low retirement savings and lesser career advancement opportunities.