Media Release by The Hon Julie Collins MP

New Bill to improve gender equality in the workplace

The Australian Government has today introduced legislation into Parliament to improve gender equality in Australian workplaces.

The Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins MP, introduced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 and said it would improve gender equality outcomes as well as simplify reporting for businesses.

“This is an important reform aimed at the genuine and sustained removal of barriers to women’s full and equal participation in the workforce,” Ms Collins said.

“Improving women’s workforce participation is fundamental to closing the gender gap in the workplace and an absolute must if we are to boost Australia’s productive capacity.

“It has been estimated that closing the gap between men’s and women’s workforce participation could increase Gross Domestic Product by 13 per cent,” Ms Collins said.

The Bill’s introduction follows a review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999.

The Bill sets out a new regime for the reporting and monitoring of gender equality in a workplace.

The new system removes the requirement on employers to provide descriptions of their policies and programs. Instead, there will be a genuine focus on outcomes and on improving outcomes over time.

The Act sets out gender equality indicators and allows for minimum standards and performance benchmarks to be developed over time in consultation with industry and experts.

“The new Act is the result of extensive consultations with industry, employee organisations and the women’s sector,” Ms Collins said.

“It will enable employers to measure their own performance against other employers and makes it simpler for them to prepare and lodge reports on their progress.

“The Bill gets the balance right between the need to drive and encourage change within business, without increasing the regulatory burden.

“It cuts red tape – simplifying and streamlining reporting for employers by focusing on the things that really matter.

“The Act specifically refers to equal pay for women and men and organisations will have to report on pay data.

“With the gender pay gap in Australia sitting at just under 18 per cent, this focus on equal pay is particularly important.

“This data will be invaluable. We will know exactly what is happening, and where, in Australian workplaces regarding gender equality practices and outcomes.

“Another key reform is that public reports will have to be signed by an employer’s chief executive officer, ensuring management at the highest level engages in the issue of gender equality,” Ms Collins said.

The new legislation will mean that for the reporting period commencing 1 April 2013, a relevant employer must prepare and lodge a public report containing information relating to gender equality indicators. The Bill introduced today also does the following:

  • Changes the name of the Act to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to emphasise the focus of the Act on gender equality in the workplace.
  • Changes the name of the Agency from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
  • Changes the title of the Director of the Agency to the Director of Workplace Gender Equality.
  • Amends the principal objects of the Act to reflect the focus on gender equality in the workplace.
  • Expands coverage of the Act to include men, as well as women, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities.

Smaller organisations with fewer than 100 employees will not be required to report, but they will be able to access the Agency’s advice, education and incentive activities.

The Bill also improves the transparency and fairness of the compliance framework and consequences for non-compliance.

Consequences for non-compliance, without reasonable excuse, include naming the employer in a report to the Minister or naming the employer by other means.

“Gender inequality is a significant disincentive to women’s workforce participation. This new legislation puts gender equality in the workplace firmly under the spotlight,” Ms Collins said.

“This delivers on a commitment the Gillard Government made to the Australian people in the 2010 election campaign.

“We said we would reform the Act to support gender equality and improve women’s workforce participation and workplace flexibility – and that’s what we’re doing.”