Editorial by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Claims we’ve gone soft on equal pay are rubbish

It costs nearly $1 million dollars more to be born a woman in this country. While the average 25 year old male will earn $2.4 million over the next 40 years, the average 25 year old woman will earn only $1.5 million.

Of course there are a number of reasons for this gender pay gap. Women are more likely to work part time, take more time out of the workforce to undertake unpaid caring responsibilities and continue to bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for unpaid household work.

Traditionally feminised jobs in the caring and community sectors have been historically undervalued and consequently, underpaid.

The result of this is a real impact on the lives of women. It can threaten their economic security and in some cases edge them towards poverty.  It is something that follows women throughout their lives, as evidenced by our pension figures – women represent more than 70 per cent of single aged pensioners.

This adds up to $1 million over a lifetime.

Ours is a Government that is committed to removing barriers to women’s full and equal participation in the workforce.  We are committed to pay equity because it is just and fair that an equal day’s pay is provided for an equal day’s work.

That is why the Government moved to get rid of the draconian Work Choices laws, which had a devastating impact on the pay and conditions of women workers and created Fair Work Australia in its place.

That is why the Government has introduced the nation’s first ever paid parental leave scheme, so women are not penalised for taking time out of the workforce to have children. That is why the Government has more than doubled our investment in child care affordability assistance over the next four years.

And that is why we enshrined the fundamental principle of equal pay for work of equal value in the Fair Work Act, that is why we ensured that the equal pay principle in the Fair Work Act was a broader principle than had ever been in federal legislation before.

It is on the basis of this very principle that the Australian Services Union (ASU) has been able to bring a case to Fair Work Australia for equal remuneration for workers in social, community and disability services.

Despite newspaper headlines that scream of national strikes in response to the Government’s submission to the ASU Equal Pay Case – you may be surprised to learn that our commitment is actually unchanged.

As the Prime Minister has made absolutely clear, the Government is supportive of this case going forward. We are supportive of pay equity for the more than 100,000 women in the social, community and disabilities services sectors and for all women workers in Australia.

We entered into a heads of agreement with the ASU to put our commitment to pay equity on the record. Our heads of agreement with the Australian Services Union before the election was about the need for pay equity and the need for properly and appropriately dealing with the increased costs that governments and the not-for-profit sector would end up sustaining if this case was concluded in favour of the union’s application.

That’s right. No back flip, no back down, no backing away.

The ASU are and always have been aware of the significant impact the financial outcome of this application might have, which is why they agreed to provide for a five-year phase-in of any increase awarded.

In a letter to members that celebrated the signing of a heads of agreement with the Government about the case, the ASU openly acknowledged that the Government was reserving its position on any quantum of increase until further budgetary analysis could be undertaken.

To assert a change in our support on the premise of the submission – as both the media and the representatives of the ASU have done – is incorrect and wilfully peddles a misinterpretation of the Government’s position.

Equal pay for work of equal value is a bread and butter issue for the Government and central to the character and conviction that is fundamental to the history of our Party.

We are committed to achieving equality for Australian women at work. The Government continues to pursue reform of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act and Agency in order to strengthen its work with businesses to stamp out discrimination and ensure women have equal access to promotions, salary and management positions.

Australians should not be fooled by inaccurate claims that fly in the face of the facts and a proven record in supporting Australian women to have the platform needed to strive and achieve equality.

This is a Government that remains committed to women’s economic security and a strong economy for all Australians and we are active in endeavours to guide us to it.