Celebrating pay gap transparency

After celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) only weeks ago (8 March), it’s the perfect time to acknowledge the landmark publication of the gender pay gap at companies and organisations around Australia with over 100 employees. It’s especially fitting given the theme of this year’s IWD — invest in women and accelerate progress.

We’ve marked IWD for more than a century, with the first held in March 1911. It’s a day of collective global activism and celebration that belongs to all those committed to forging women’s equality. As feminist, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem reportedly said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, not to any one organisation, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

IWD is a significant day for women in unions, as members celebrate their campaigns that delivered fairer laws that better support women and equality in the workplace.

Unions have campaigned for equal pay and workplaces free of discrimination. Publicising the ongoing gender pay gap between male and female workers is an important tool for change.

The gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay, which is where women and men are paid the same for doing the same work or different work of equal or comparable value. This has been a legal requirement since 1969.

The gender pay gap is the difference between the average pay of women and men across organisations, industries and the workforce as a whole. It arises from social and economic factors that combine to reduce women’s earning capacity over their lifetime.

The new transparency of pay rates at nearly 5000 employers is the result of important reforms passed by the federal government in 2023. The pay gaps of companies with more than 100 employees are available online on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) website.

“Women with less security and less bargaining power are more likely to be subject to challenging work practices.”

This year, the overall national gender pay gap between male and female workers was reduced to 19% as a result of union victories for women workers, including historic increases to the minimum wage and improvements in wages in female-dominated industries. But this gap is still too wide.

As a union with a membership comprising 72% women, the IEU played a critical role in securing stronger rights to flexible work as well as access to multi-employer bargaining in feminised sectors such as early childhood education.

New limits on the use of fixed-term contracts were particularly important for IEU members with thousands of women working in schools stuck on insecure short-term contracts. These members now have a clear pathway to job security and union support will embed these important gains.

There have been important changes to existing workplace laws which put the focus on gender equality. The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 included long overdue action on measures to reduce the pay gap and prohibit pay secrecy. The Fair Work Commission will also help scrutinise the pay gap, including through a review of about 1.1 million workers in female-dominated occupations under award conditions.

The IEU notes that more than 50% of the workplaces that have reported their figures have a pay gap of over 9%. While the gender pay gap shows some improvement, especially in education, lower earnings by women is still a national shame. On average, across all industries, women earn $26,393 less per annum.

The new (WGEA) reporting requirements show positive overall trends in the education sector, while at the same time highlighting embarrassing failings by many school employers.

For the most part, less than 50% of education and training employers have an equal remuneration policy, have conducted a gender pay gap analysis or taken action as a result of a pay gap analysis.

Improving the pay and conditions of working women is good for equality, good for economic policy, and good for our society. The pay gap is symptomatic of work done mainly by women being undervalued. Women with less job security and less bargaining power are more likely to be subject to challenging work practices.

The IEU will continue to be a voice for women and girls in education and the wider community, as we collectively strive to invest in women and accelerate progress in our schools and other workplaces.