Government to keep gender reporting rules in place

Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz has announced a gender-reporting framework that keeps much of the current system in place, despite calls from business groups to cut the “red tape”.

This is despite earlier reports which suggested gender reporting requirements could be significantly relaxed for businesses with fewer than 100 staff members.

“Contrary to recent misleading reports and commentary, the government is not proposing to change the threshold of the current reporting requirements for companies with more than 100 employees or to abolish gender equality reporting,” Senator Abetz said in a statement. “The existing reporting requirements in operation today for employers with more than 100 employees remain unchanged.”

A new set of more stringent reporting requirements for businesses with more than 500 employees were due to come in next month. These have been deferred to “allow for more consultation”, Abetz said.

“We want to make sure that we get this right and do not force new, onerous requirements that do not achieve the stated objectives. It is vital that we collect effective data, rather than just more data without consideration of whether it will achieve any real results.”

The gender reporting requirements mean businesses with more than 100 employees have to report on the gender makeup of their workplace to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, as established under the Workplace Gender Equality Act passed in December 2012.

As part of the Act, the minister had to set up ‘minimum standards’ for additional gender reporting, which have been deferred to April 2015.

From that date, such employers will have to put in place “one or more” strategies to:

  • Support and improve gender equality in the workplace;
  • Advance equal remuneration between male and female employees;
  • Implement flexible work arrangements for employees with caring responsibilities; or
  • Prevent sex-based harassment and discrimination.

From the wording of the announcement, Diversity Council program director Lisa Annese tells SmartCompany she’s not sure whether large businesses will have to address one or all four of the identified issues.

The minister has announced a period of discussion in the lead-up to the implementation of the higher minimum standards, and she calls upon the minister to “really look at what the intention of the legislation is” to address gender inequality in the workforce.

The Diversity Council is pleased to see basic reporting requirements for organisations with 100 or more employees stay the same, Annese says.

“But the standard is really quite low,” she adds. “It’s a bit of a missed opportunity to really create progress in Australian business on this issue.”

Many have decried the reporting requirements as more red tape, but Annese says her discussions with businesses show don’t support that view.

“We’re overwhelmingly told by our members that they really want reporting,” she says. “It helps them keep focused. And anyway, with large organisations, many are already doing far more than the minimum standard.”

Businesses are already reporting on the gender composition of their workforce, Annese adds. “Changing that requirement would have merely created more red tape.”

The government’s plans have also been welcomed by the Business Council of Australia. Chief executive Jennifer Westacott told The Australian yesterday that it supports the collection of gender diversity data.

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