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Ai Group warns equal opportunity laws risk increasing SME red-tape burden, but companies told to “get on with it”

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The Australian Industry Group says revamped equal opportunity laws risk neglecting the views of employers that will need to comply with the legislation and could result in more business red tape.

In its submission to the Senate Committee looking into the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act amendment bill, the business group says it supports the legislation’s push to improve gender equality in the workplace, but is “concerned that the proposed objects of the Act fail to focus upon the need to reduce the regulatory burden on industry.”

“It is employers who will need to implement and comply with this legislation, not unions and special interest groups, and therefore the views of employer representatives on the workability of the Bill need to be given substantial weight,” Ai Group’s submission says.

“For example, in the labour hire industry, one labour hire company may specialise in the on-hiring of construction workers while another may specialise in the on-hiring of nurses. Applying the same minimum standard relating to the proportion of male female employees to both employers would be unfair and inappropriate.”

But Yolanda Vega, chief executive of Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AWCCI), says big companies have to “stop paying lip service” and deal with the small impositions that will deliver great benefits to the country in the long term.

“We need to get on with it,” Vega says.

“This bill is for the top companies that have a huge number of human resources staff that are able to implement it.”

“These large companies need to stop whingeing, and actually do something about it.”

The Ai Group submission also states that it would be “impossible to obtain a valid and fair measure of performance without an excessive amount of red tape.”

“For example, to obtain a valid and fair measure of pay equity performance, every job performed by males and females in a workplace would need to be analysed in terms of the duties performed, level of responsibility, skills, qualifications, hours worked, performance, experience, etc.

“Subjecting an employer to adverse consequences simply because the average salary of their female employees is significantly less than the average salary of their male employees (or vice versa) would be extremely unfair and invalid.”

The comments follow extensive consultation on the bill, which will force businesses with more than 100 employees to report on how they are providing women with equal pay and flexible work practices.

Non-compliant businesses might be barred from winning government contracts, with the new laws scheduled to be effective from early 2014.

Ai Group argues this is unfair and the loss of potentially millions of dollars to such businesses would have a “devastating effect on the business and its employees.”

But with more and more women leaving management roles to start their own business, AWCCI’s Vega says top companies need to take heed of statistics showing that 40% of women have reported feeling discriminated against at work, predominantly because of gender.

“If we as a nation don’t address these issues, there will be massive issues to deal with the in the future,” Vega says.

“We can’t ensure that we’ll stay the lucky country until we tap into the untapped source that is women, who are 60% of university graduates and yet still having to fight about equal pay.”

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