A major continuing focus for the IEU is fair, safe and supportive workplaces for our members, especially during the uncertainties of COVID.
Each year Australian employers with more than 100 staff, which includes all NSW/ACT Catholic dioceses, most charities and major early childhood sector employers and many independent schools, are required to report to the national Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) about their equity policies, procedures and practices. These reports are provided to the relevant unions and placed on the WGEA website (wgea.gov.au) for public access.
Employer reports to WGEA include updates about how they are ensuring that workplaces provide equal pay for work of comparable value, that there are no barriers to the full and equal participation of women at all levels, and that there is access to flexible work arrangements for women and men who are carers for babies and children, for family members with illness or disability, and for those with elder care responsibilities.
Employers are also required to report on their policies and practices to prevent and address gender-based harassment and discrimination and to support workers who experience family or domestic violence.
An important role of WGEA, utilising the data from employer reports, is to monitor the national gender pay gap and the pay gap in employment sectors such as education. The question is often asked – if there has been ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ since 1972, how can there be a gender pay gap in Australia of 14.2 percent?
The gender pay gap measures the difference between the average earnings of women and men in the workforce and reflects the social and economic factors that can reduce women’s earnings over a lifetime and lower their superannuation balances in retirement.
For example, the historic undervaluation of ‘women’s work’, such as in early childhood education and in school support staff roles, has resulted in lower pay rates, which the IEU has sought to address in its Fair Work Commission case for early childhood teachers and in the joint IEU/Catholic employers working party to seek pay parity for support staff.
Another factor in the gender pay gap is that many women do not progress on salary scales, or access leadership roles as quickly as male colleagues, due to family and carer responsibilities, with this having a cumulative effect on earnings and ultimately on retirement incomes. It is estimated that Australian women continue to retire with about 40 percent less superannuation than male workers. Within this context, the union movement is campaigning for superannuation to be paid on the 18 weeks of the national Paid Parental Leave scheme.
Annual reports to WGEA are an important aspect of employer accountability for workplace equity and provide a valuable source of information for the IEU, its reps and members, about employers’ commitment to fair, safe and inclusive workplaces.
All IEU members deserve to be treated with dignity and respect at work and for their pay to reflect contemporary standards, not historic gender-based anomalies. Together with collective workplace engagement and activism by members, the accountability framework of WGEA reporting provides a basis for enhancing workplace equity for women and men and for the students in our schools as they enter the future world of work.