Brett Gale
Monday, 19 August 2019

Close the Gender Pay Gap Now

As the world celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing recently here in Australia another significant 50th anniversary passed, one that didn’t receive anywhere near as much commemoration as the moon landing.   June 19 2019 marked the 50th Anniversary of Australia’s industrial relations system endorsing the principle of “equal pay for equal work”.  

50 years later Australian women still have to work an extra 59 days after the end of the financial year to earn the same as men.  It is little wonder that we didn’t celebrate the 50th anniversary of the equal pay case with the same fervour as we did the moon landing. 

John F Kennedy’s words at the launch of the space program are illuminating he said, “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard”.  It is now time to address the gender pay gap with the same determination and fervour. 

Unfortunately, in Australia we haven’t tackled gender pay equity because it was too hard, we haven’t tackled it because it’s been too easy to get away with doing the bare minimum.  With a current Prime Minister whose only contribution to the gender pay debate was to suggest that women shouldn’t rise at the expense of men and that pay transparency would be “setting up conflict in the workplace”, it’s no wonder that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has estimated that on the current rates of progress it may well take another 50 years to close the gender pay gap in Australia.  

But why should Australian women be waiting for the 100th anniversary of the 1969 equal pay case to celebrate achieving pay equity in practice? 

Drastic action needs to be taken to close the gender pay gap sooner.  

The Chifley Research Centre has (today) released a new research brief which models the public policy interventions that would have the greatest impact on closing the gender pay gap in the shortest possible time.     

Our modelling shows that the collective impact of all the proposed policies would reduce the gender pay gap by nearly half by 2025.

Policy interventions modelled by Chifley fell roughly into four categories.  

The greatest impact on closing the gap comes through greater transparency.  It is clear that for too long, too many employers have managed to hide the truth of their gender pay gap under the rock of secrecy. That’s why we are calling for the public release of gender pay data for all organisations (public, private and not-for-profit) with more than 100 employees.  For some companies only the spotlight of embarrassment will make them act.  

We also call for a ban on pay secrecy clauses in employee contracts and to remove any adverse action to employees who openly disclose wages or salary.

Second, we examined measures to mitigate the impact of horizontal gender segregation – where female dominated industries are paid considerably less than male dominated industries.  

What’s needed here are wholesale changes to the Fair Work Act.  We recommend that pay equity be introduced as a specific and explicit objective of the Act and that a series of principles be incorporated that better recognise the ways in which the work done in female dominated industries has been traditionally undervalued.  Let’s get rid of the ridiculous need to prove a comparator between female and male dominated industries for a start. This is an antediluvian hangover from the days when society judged “women’s work” to be less important than men’s.  

As Federal Labor recognised going into the last election it is also beyond time to offer a decent pay rise for those women in traditionally underpaid industries such as early childhood education and care.  

Third, to reduce the impact of disadvantage imposed by unpaid care work we propose that the government change the paid parental leave scheme by increasing the total number of shared parental leave on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis and make further changes to the childcare rebate.

Finally, we suggest that guidelines be set for both Government procurement processes and access to government funding that mean if you don’t meet the new gender pay requirements you either can’t tender for government jobs or you lose your government funded support.  

What is clear from the research is that picking off individual initiatives one-by-one will not lead to step change in our rate of progress.  

But step change is surely needed if we are to remove this impediment not only to individual women’s economic security but to Australia’s overall economic productivity and wellbeing.  

That’s why the time to act is now, the time to set targets for closing the pay gap is now and the time for governments and companies to act is now. We’ve kept Australian women waiting 50 years for pay equity.  Let’s not keep them waiting any longer.   

You can read the report in full here.

About Brett Gale:

Brett Gale is the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre.