The Global Gender Gap Report 2009 (World Economic Forum) rated Australia 20 on an international index. behind the Scandinavian countries who came in at 1 to 4, New Zealand 5, Ireland 8 and “developing” countries Lesotho 10 and Sri Lanka 15.
On the critical measure of labour force participation, Australia has fallen from 40 to 50, with the female-to-male ratio stagnating at 0.84.
And on the measure of wage equality for similar work, Australia ranks only 60th in the world.
In November 2009 the Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations was tabled. It noted the 17% gap between men and women’s pay, as well as a widening gap in workforce participation and access to higher paid positions. ACTU President Sharon Burrows welcomed the report:
Equity on pay and workforce participation for women will be a top priority for Australian unions over the next 12 months. Unions are undertaking a major industrial campaign with a test case in Fair Work Australia that could lift the pay of workers in the female-dominated social and community services sector by more than $100 a week.
The committee's recommendation for gender and equal remuneration principles to be considered when industrial awards are upgraded by Fair Work Australia, including the federal minimum wage case, is a positive step.
Positive also is the proposal for a pay equity unit within Fair Work Australia to gather data, monitor and investigate equity in pay, conditions and benefits.
It's 40 years since the first equal pay test case, yet women still lag well behind men in the Australian workforce.
In May 2009, Australian Services Union (ASU) members in the Social and Community Services (SACS) Division in Queensland won an historic victory. The successful campaign resulted in a decision being handed down in the Queensland Industrial Commission awarding pay increases of 19% to almost 40% based on the undervaluation of the work in the SACS industry. The Commissioner found that this undervaluing resulted from the perception of the work being an extension of domestic/caring work of women. Women represent over 80% of the workforce in the industry.
A new Federal Award is now being introduced under “Award Modernisation” and the ASU National has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Government to pursue a pay equity case under Fair Work Australia based on the Queenslandd Rates of Pay. AS the ASU stated in a media release on the issue:
“The Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Australian Government have reached an historic agreement which will see the social and community services sector as the test case for pay equity in the new Federal Industrial Relations system.
This agreement means that the very first national equal remuneration case under the new Fair Work Act will be run by ASU with the support and co-operation of the Australian Government
This landmark agreement helps to pave the way for the ASU's successful Queensland pay equity case to flow on to SACS workers across Australia. The case will seek pay rises based on pay equity and work value to support retention of staff and address a chronic skills shortage in the sector by delivering substantial wage rise for the predominately female workforce - 87% of SACS workers are women.
"If the remuneration case is successful, a phase-in of enhanced wages and conditions will provide welcome relief to both employees and employers in the sector. Many organisations are struggling with wage rates failing to attract and retain staff.”
Early indications are that this test case will be bitterly fought by Chamber of Commerce and other interests as they see it as setting the scene for a wages breakout by other sectors of low-paid women workers.
The ASU is working towards a National Day of Action in May in support of the claim. Campaign Committees are being set up around the country to prepare for the NDA and maximise participation of workers in the industry.