It’s nothing novel - the idea behind pay equity is that men and women should be paid the same for work of equal or comparable value. So women who perform work that has equal levels of skill required or responsibility involved, under the same or comparable conditions, should be paid the same as men.
The gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings (Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2015).
It can be calculated in a number of ways and this sometimes leads to differences in the figures cited as “the gender pay gap”.
As of 2015, Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) calculated the national gender pay gap as 17.9%.
In reality there is not one gender pay gap but numerous gender pay gaps. The gap is different between public and private sector, in different industries, for ongoing versus casual workers and in fact is likely to be different based on ethnicity (however little data is gathered on this basis); however, for every woman the gender pay gap is in double digits and the trend currently is for the gap to be widening.
Why the gap?
The gap between women's and men's earnings occurs for a number of interrelated reasons:
Undervaluing women's skills - Long held prejudices about women and the nature of their skills have prevented any objective assessment of women's work. The most obvious example happens where women's skills are viewed as 'natural attributes' rather than workplace skills; this particularly includes skills like caring and nurturing skills and communication skills.
Women's lower share of discretionary payments: - Women workers continue to receive significantly lower levels of discretionary payments compared to men. A discretionary payment refers to things like bonuses, commissions and profit sharing payments.
The impact of family responsibilities - Working women usually carry a greater share of the responsibility for caring for other family member and performing unpaid work in the home than working men. This may affect their access to training and career development opportunities, promotional opportunities, or to jobs where flexible working arrangements are not available, amongst other factors.
Women's concentration in part time and casual employment - Women's concentration in part time and casual employment has implications for pay equity, including limited opportunities for advancement and career development, lower levels of unionisation, and in the case of casual employment, no permanency and few employment benefits.
Deregulation of the labour market - In Australia the centralised wage fixing, or ‘award’, system had for many years been credited with our relatively good performance in closing the gender age gap, compared to countries with more decentralised systems. Since the Howard Government's attacks on the Australian unions in the early 1990s and the widespread introduction of enterprise bargaining and individual contracts, the gender wage gap in Australia has widened. This is due to a combination of factors such as women having less bargaining power due to less labour force experience, lower representation in full-time employment and the trade union movement.
What can you do?
Here are 5 actions you can take to fight for pay equality in Australia:
- Join the We Are Union Women’s Network
- Sign up for our WRAW (Women’s Rights at Work) Festival
- Take the Women’s rights and safety dialogue for action survey
- Volunteer with the We Are Union federal election campaign
- Get active online – join the We Are Union Women Facebook page and take action