Fair Work could order pay rises for female dominated workforces, Labor pledges

Anthony-Albanese-social-housing-budget-reply gender pay

Source: AAP/Paul Miller.

The Fair Work Commission could order pay rises in female-dominated sectors while gender pay equity would become an objective of the Fair Work Act under a Labor government, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese announced yesterday.

To a crowd of party-faithful at his official campaign launch, Albanese also confirmed Labor would establish the statutory equal remuneration principle to guide the Fair Work Commission and create new expert panels to hear equal pay cases.

The Queensland government enacted its own equal remuneration principle several years back — interestingly, the statement of policy stipulates gender discrimination is not required to be shown to establish undervaluation of work.

The concept was first established nearly 70 years ago in the Equal Remuneration Convention 1952 (No. 100) of the International Labour Organization ILO — and there are two core tenets.

First, that men and women receive equal pay and benefits for work that is the same, requires the same skills, effort and responsibility, and is performed under similar working conditions — two entry-level accountants, for example.

Crucially however, even if two jobs are entirely different, based on objective criteria free from gender bias they are of equal value — that means men and women receive the same pay for jobs that involve different qualifications, skills, responsibilities or working conditions, but which are nevertheless of equal value.

In principal, Hall & Wilcox partner Fay Calderone says, implementing this “is critical and never been more necessary”, particularly for the care industry.

“It is intolerable that they are underpaid and of course low wages perpetuate the issue with staff shortages meaning they are also overworked.”

Looking at Queensland’s example, Calderone says we could expect the commission must be satisfied an agreement or bargaining instrument proposed by an employer has implemented equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value for all employees.

“The principle is an important step in the right direction, as it will allow the Fair Work Commission and new expert panels to give greater consideration to equal pay cases,” she tells SmartCompany.

So what would change? Without more detail, it’s hard to say — Calderone says either a worker, a union representative or the sex discrimination commissioner can already apply for an equal remuneration order, which requires certain employees get equal pay for equal (or comparable) work.

It actually overrrides a modern award, an enterprise agreement, a Fair Work Commission order or any other industrial instrument as long as the worker comes off better, Calderone continues.

Albanese continued that under a Labor government, a new Care and Community Sector Expert Panel and a Pay Equity Expert Panel would be established to strengthen expertise within the commission on gender pay equity and care sector work.

The panels will be backed by a dedicated research unit — and that’s a very good thing, Diversity Council Australia (DCA) CEO Lisa Annese tells SmartCompany.

Annese continues that DCA research shows industrial and occupational segregation are major reasons why the gender pay gap persists to this day.

“We do need targeted action to address these aspects of the gender pay gap,” she says.

And closing the gender pay gap is more than an ethical imperative — it makes good business and economic sense too, Annese says.

“Closing the gap will have significant benefits to Australia’s economy and society, as well as benefits for employers in terms of productivity, employee engagement and morale, access to talent, and retention.”

But don’t expect the policy to have broad implications for the Australian business community, Georgina Alexandrou, special counsel at Brisbane’s Corrs Chambers Westgarth tells SmartCompany.

“It is unlikely to mean wholesale changes across all sectors and industries,” she continues. “But a focus on low paid sectors like aged care, early childhood education and care, and disability care, where workers are predominantly women.”

In announcing the policy, Albanese called care work “undervalued, underpaid, and increasingly less secure”.

“This is making it hard to attract the thousands of new care workers we need, and to keep those already working in the sector in their jobs.”

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke says the gender parity announcement comes “on top of our reforms to tackle insecure work, which will help Australians get good, secure jobs”, while Education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek says the fight for gender equality is not a bipartisan issue.

“Women don’t want special treatment, they just want equality,” she said.

“Australian women have been continually let down by the Morrison government. The Liberals have done next to nothing to address the gender pay gap over the last decade in office, and it’s clear they never will.”

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James Hill
James Hill
16 days ago

I am struggling to see where in this day and age of anti-discrimination laws where genders dictate different pays? Can someone point out an example, and not a generic answer but specific.

Penny Johnson
Penny Johnson
14 days ago
Reply to  James Hill

I’m a female worker- and have worked in rural industries, tourism, owned & operated my own business with my husband, worked in local government and in the not for profit sector. As a jillaroo 40 years ago I received about $8 a week less than a male jackaroo- but got my own bedroom & bathroom and meals( the males had shared accommodation) I’ve worked as a tour guide & received the same pay as a male guide, I’ve been in local government & received the same pay as my male counterparts. I would expect if I had more qualifications, worked the hours and had more responsibility than a male, that I would be remunerated accordingly and vice versa. I’d be interested in specific examples too, as it is not something I have personally experienced and I don’t know any male child care workers, aged care staff, nurses or teachers who are getting paid more than their equally qualified & experienced female colleagues. I thought industrial awards, workplace laws and anti discrimination legislation would have meant that people are paid according to the work they do and their qualifications & experience? Does the “pay gap” extend to people who do not identify as male and female?

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