It was a Labor Party idea, but the Morrison government hasn’t yet completely ruled out a push to force companies with more than 1000 employees to disclose their gender pay gaps.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed concern that such a plan would want to ensure “you’re not setting up conflict in the workplace,” but said he’s “open-minded” to pay transparency.
So while he’s definitely not committing to the transparency plan, especially as Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek yesterday announced what it would look under a Labor government, he’s not absolutely ruling pay transparency out either. And neither did Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer when speaking with ABC’s Fran Kelly this morning. Although the Liberal Party’s position could, of course, quickly change.
Morrison used the hashtag #Moretodo when tweeting about the gender pay gap yesterday, indicating he sees it as an issue that should be addressed, although he did attempt to claim the coalition had narrowed it since taking office. In reality, the gender pay gap has actually bounced between 14.5% and 18.5% for the past 20 years. It rose to 18.5% in 2014 under the Abbott government.
Under Labor, the gender pay gap increased from 15.5% to 17.2%. Under our Government it has fallen to 14.5% and heading in right direction #Moretodo.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) September 22, 2018
There are signs both sides of politics are quickly catching on to the need to push for policies which target women’s economic security — and ultimately aid in winning the women’s vote. The Liberal Party continues to face questions about the lack of women represented in the party and is in no position to categorically refute policy that may benefit women’s pay, while Kelly O’Dwyer has repeatedly promised to release a women’s economic statement before the end of the year. And the Labor Party sees an opportunity to get new economic policies that support women on the table, as it did last week in announcing its superannuation plan, that primarily promises to pay super during government-funded parental leave.
As Kristine Ziwica wrote over a year ago, it’s well and truly “time for politicians to whistle at women”, because for too long, Australian women have been taken for granted. Finally, we’re starting to see that happen. Indeed, some of it could be said to be coming off the back of the coalition’s ‘problem with women’.
The Labor pay transparency plan targets the national 15% gender pay gap, which it says remains “stubbornly high”. It would see a “gender pay equity portal” made available where anyone could search for a company’s overall pay gap. It would also push to change the Fair Work Act in order to ban pay secrecy clauses, and enable the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to publish lists of organisations that have not reported their gender pay gap. Meanwhile, every government agency and department would be required to conduct pay audits.
“We know that shining a light, transparency, is the best medicine,” Plibersek said when announcing the plan on Sunday.
“A lot of companies simply don’t know that they have a gender pay gap, they assume that they don’t, and when they do a gender pay audit, they are surprised.”
So, can a shift to pay transparency close the gender pay gap? It can certainly help. Information is power, especially when it comes to women negotiating pay.
Some major organisations, including Ernst & Young and PwC, started disclosing their gender pay gaps earlier this year. As PwC chief executive Luke Sayers said at the time, transparency on diversity is one way to “hold ourselves accountable to real change”.
Shaming organisations on their gender pay gaps would also force them to take action, or at least publicise some kind of action plan. Those that don’t will suffer the consequences, because great female talent will simply choose to work elsewhere. They may also face issues in securing supplier contracts, working with government departments and even from consumer-led backlash.
The above plan can only go so far — especially in that it mainly targets organisations with more than 1000 employees — but it could be a start.