Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Launch of the EOWA Survey on paid maternity leave, sex-based harassment initiatives and the gender pay gap

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

– check on delivery –


Thank you Mairi for your introduction.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we meet on today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

Jann Kinsela, Director Talent, Learning and Development, Alcoa of Australia

James Bidgood MP


Alcoa are doing great things for women and families in their organisation.

Earlier this year Alcoa was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Women for the eighth consecutive year- an outstanding achievement.

This recognition by EOWA is coveted by Australian businesses- and is an important way of lifting the bar for equal opportunities for women.

I was very interested in Alcoa’s “Work/Life Blend Tools” and its suggestions on managing time, staying healthy, carrying out caring responsibilities and growing professionally.

It’a great to hear that Alcoa offers a suite of flexible working arrangements for women and men – including part-time work, job sharing, working from home and modified start and finish times.

Various Alcoa offices even offer private facilities for breastfeeding, on-site crèches and other extras that make parenting easier while working.

EOWA review

I recently announced the review of the EOWA and its underlying legislation the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act to examine its effectiveness and efficiency in promoting equal opportunity for women in the workplace.

Over the last decade, the agency has worked with thousands of large businesses to improve opportunities for women in the workplace.

These employers are now reaping the benefits by attracting and retaining the best talent, improved morale and increased employee effectiveness.

As Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte said when he won the ‘Leading CEO for the Advancement of Women’ award in 2005:

“Equal opportunity is a critical success factor for Deloitte’s growth and we will not succeed until we get it right.

At a time when the wider Australian professional services sector is losing many of its talented professional services business women to local and international industry and commerce, it is a business imperative to retain this talent, if we are to win the war for talent in this country.”

The EOWA Employer of Choice for Women, the Business Achievement Awards and the Australian Census of Women in Leadership have been incredibly successful initiatives.

At the same time, there has been a vast array of economic, social and legislative changes since the last review of the legislation in 1998.

To start with, more women than ever before are in paid employment – women now make up more than 45 per cent of the total labour force.1

Reforms to the industrial relations and social security systems and the boost in child care support have also had significant impacts on women’s paid and unpaid work.

In addition, men are now taking a more active role in parenting.

By assisting more men to take more parental leave and use flexible working hours or part-time work, we can help to rebalance the inequities women continue to face at home and at work.

It is also be great for dads – many of whom are keen to spend more time with their kids.

I will be launching a discussion paper soon which will begin the public consultation of the EOWA review.

EOWA Survey

It gives me great pleasure today to launch the EOWA Survey on Paid Maternity Leave, Sex-Based Harassment Initiatives and the Gender Pay Gap.

This is the second in a suite of surveys on gender issues in that workplace sponsored by Alcoa.

There is both good and disappointing news in the survey.

Paid Maternity Leave

Nearly 51 per cent (50.8) of organisations reporting to EOWA (employers with over 100 employees) now provide paid maternity leave.

This is an increase of 15 per cent since 2003.

The average duration of paid maternity leave in reporting organisations is 9.4 weeks.

This is great news for women, their families and businesses.

Of course almost half of surveyed organisations, and many others, do not provide paid parental leave and that’s why the Government has committed to the introduction of a Government sponsored paid parental leave scheme.

Paid parental leave provides parents, especially mother with the breathing space they need to spend more time with their newborn children.

$731 million over five years will be provided to ensure parents to find more time to work and care for their family.

Over 148,000 mothers and primary carers who have an income of $150,000 or less will be able to spend quality time with their children in the precious first few months after birth.

The Government scheme will be able to be used in addition to or in conjunction with existing employer funded schemes.

Businesses that already provide paid parental leave really should consider enhancing their own arrangements through a mixture of government and employer sponsored leave.

Sex-Based Harassment

The Australian Human Rights Commission found last year that one in three women experience sexual harassment in their lifetime – the majority of which occurs in the workplace (65 per cent).2

While almost all reporting organisations have formal procedures for dealing with sex-based harassment in the workplace, about 3 in 5 provide training to staff (59.1 per cent) and even fewer provide training to managers (55.4 per cent), according to the survey.

Clearly there is more work to do.

As well as having these provisions we need to be able to use them.

Reducing violence against women and gender discrimination is one of my top priorities as Minister for the Status of Women.

As the EOWA research shows us this issue requires a government, community and business response.

The Government is conducting a National Human Rights Consultation and is also considering recommendations from the Senate Sex Discrimination Act Inquiry. Ideas on how to reduce gender discrimination, including sex harassment, have been important considerations in both of these processes.

The Government is also developing a National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women, which will give all governments and the community clear directions over the long term to help Australian women live free of violence, within respectful relationships and in safe communities.

Gender Pay Gap

Over a third of all survey respondents (37 per cent) believe a gender pay gap exists in their organisation.

Of these, almost half (47 per cent) thought this even although they had not conducted a gender pay gap analysis – a tool which readily available from the EOWA.

On an encouraging note, there is evidence of positive behavioural changes in organisations to address the pay gap in their organisations as a result of the EOWA Employer of Choice citation.

The EOWA Employer of Choice for Women citation is used by female friendly businesses with Equal Opportunity (EO) programs to brand and position themselves in the marketplace to attract the best talent.

Some businesses that did not meet the pay gap criteria this year, and hence did not receive a citation, are now making changes in their organisations in order to obtain the citation next year.

This is terrific news. Large businesses will instigate changes to improve equal employment opportunity when there is the community and competitive incentive to do so.

It is encouraging that these sort of incentives work; and I look forward to seeing the 2010 round and similar results from the 2009-10 National Work-Life Balance Awards that the Deputy Prime Minister launched last week.

Pay inequities continue to reduce women’s economic security with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing that women earn 83 cents for every dollar men earn.

The compounding affect of pay inequality means that women are two and half times more likely to live in poverty in their old age than men – by 2019, on average, women will have half the amount of superannuation that men have.

The Government has a strong commitment to improve economic outcomes of women and their families.

Our Fair Work Act 2009 provides enhanced provisions to seek to address the gender pay gap, including by allowing claims for equal remuneration of equal or comparable value and for the review of modern award wages on work value grounds.

I also look forward to receiving the recommendations of the House of Representatives Pay Equity Inquiry, led by Sharryn Jackson MP, in October.


Achieving equal employment opportunity does not necessarily mean equal outcomes for men and women in the workforce.

Individuals should have choices available to them about how they balance their work and caring responsibilities.

But equal employment opportunity does require, however, the removal of obstacles and barriers to women’s participation, including by removing discrimination, valuing women’s work appropriately, and by enabling all workers to better manage their work and family responsibilities.

I congratulate EOWA for the work they have achieved over the last year, including this survey.

I also I thank Alcoa of Australia for their on-going commitment to the work of the Agency and to improving equal opportunities for women.


  1. ABS, Labour Force, May 2009 (Cat No 6202.0), released 11 June 2009, seasonally adjusted data.
  2. Australian Human Rights Commission, 2008 Sexual Harassment: Serious Business – Results of the 2008 Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey.