Gender reporting red tape could be relaxed for SMEs

Reporting requirements for gender equality in the workplace could be relaxed for small businesses as part of the Abbott government’s mission to slash $1 billion of red tape.

Under a new system being considered by Employment Minister Eric Abetz, only companies with over 1000 staff members would need to provide detailed annual reports on gender balance, The Australian Financial Review reports.

Under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, businesses with over 100 staff are required to report around 30 core details to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency annually.

These details include the ratio of men to women hired, their positions within the company and their remuneration.

Even stricter minimum reporting standards are due to be set in place for 2014-15. However, under the review a number of these minimum requirements could be substantially reduced.

A spokesperson for the Employment Minister told SmartCompany this morning the matter was being reviewed, but they could not reveal any further details of potential chances to the policy.

“The Minister is required under legislation to make a regulation by April,” he said. “The government has consulted widely and is currently considering reform of the legislation.”

The parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, in charge of the government’s push for deregulation, was contacted this morning for comment but no reply was available before publication.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said in a statement to SmartCompany the current system was a “costly, time consuming” exercise that provided “no useful comparison because the nature of each business is so different”.

She said the proposed changes “benefit small and medium-sized businesses”.

“The BCA and its members are passionate advocates for improving the representation of women at all levels within our businesses, particular in the senior ranks,” she said.

“But the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 was always the wrong solution to the right problem, and the government’s proposed changes are very welcome.”

Westacott said while the impact on larger businesses is “more modest”, the changes will reduce the compliance burden by no longer requiring companies to provide extremely detailed breakdowns of gender by occupational area.

“In welcoming these proposed changes, we would encourage the government to go further in improving the legislation.”

The news of reform comes as figures released last week from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that, on average, full-time working women’s earnings are 17.1% less per week than full-time working men’s earnings.

The gap was slightly lower than the August 2013 figure of 17.5%. It found that women’s earnings had increased at a slightly higher rate than men’s over the past 12 months – 3.5% compared to 3%.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports the gender pay gap has hovered between 15% and 18% for around two decades, and is influenced by industrial and occupational segregation, a lack of women in leadership, the fact that women still do most of society’s unpaid caring, a lack of senior part-time and flexible roles, and direct or indirect discrimination.

WGEA director Helen Conway said this persistent pay gap is both “concerning and frustrating”.

“And sadly, there is a pay gap in favour of men in every single industry,” she said.

“Some of the highest gender pay gaps are found in female-dominated industries including health care and social assistance and finance and insurance services.”

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