Industry groups have welcomed Fair Work Australia’s “careful and methodical approach” in delivering equal remuneration for social and community service workers.
In what has been described as a landmark decision, the national workplace relations tribunal found that thousands of workers in this sector have been underpaid on the basis of gender.
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The decision could set in motion a pay rise of as much as 30%, but FWA is calling for further reviews before it makes its final ruling in August.
More than 200,000 non-government workers employed in the sector, including childcare, job recruitment, aged care and disability services, will be affected by the decision.
“We consider gender has been important in creating the gap between pay in the [social and community services] industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment,” FWA said in its decision.
FWA’s ruling is regarded as the most important equal pay case since 1972, with unions rejoicing over the move.
Lisa Darmanin of the Australian Services Union says the decision is a “very good first step”, calling for pay rises of between 25% and 30%.
The Australian Industry Group says FWA has been careful and methodical in its approach in handing down its decision, but voiced its concerns over the role of the unions.
“We had substantial concerns about the loose approach pursued by the unions and the potential for the unions’ claims to distort and destabilise Australia’s modern award safety net,” AIG chief executive Heather Ridout says.
“FWA has decided that the rates currently being paid to workers in the social and community services are undervalued, but has called for further submissions in June/July, and scheduled further hearings in August before it determines how the undervaluation will be addressed.”
Meanwhile, the Gillard Government has pledged its support to an FWA review of apprentice and trainee training, which could eliminate the concept of pay based on seniority.
It is hoped that the decision, to support wages based on competency rather than years in training, will attract older people into trades facing severe skills shortages.
According to FWA, Labor is not getting full value from the $1.2 billion it spends on training. FWA says employers are not investing enough and fewer than half of apprentices complete their courses due to low wages, lack of support and dislike of their jobs.
The Government says it will work with stakeholders to “promote the removal of impediments to competency-based progression from existing awards and support the review of wages in light of the increasing number of adult trade apprentices”.
Last week’s Federal budget included paying apprentices $5,500 in tax-free bonuses as they complete their training.
The Government will also spend $100 million on a trial whereby apprentices progress through training based on skills competency rather than the duration model, which means they complete training after a certain number of years.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says employers would be prepared to switch to competency-based training, providing they do not lose control over the curriculum and accreditation.