The Fight For Gender Equality


The Australian industrial relations system disadvantages women and the fight for gender equality continues. For some women, paid work is undervalued and unpaid work is an expectation. Child rearing disrupts their careers with breaks affecting wages, career progression and work security. Sadly, some women are also victims of family violence. The Australian Council for Trade Unions (ACTU) published a report in November 2018, that campaigns for changes to legislation and policy and the Australian Industrial Regulations Framework to bridge the gap and achieve gender equality. We provide a review of the key issues presented in the report, along with some recommendations, while the issue continues to be fought out at the political level.

Women Earn Less Than Their Male Counterparts

Gender inequality begins early in a woman’s career with their average undergraduate starting salaries 2% and post graduates 16% less than men. In 2018, the current pay gap was 15% with women earning $254 less than men each week. Women make up 52% of all casual employees with 27% of women working on a casual basis compared to 21% of men. Three-quarters of all paid parental leave is taken up by women and 7 out of 10 women leave their job once the parental leave has run out.

The most senior roles are heavily male dominated and this cuts across all sectors. Women only make up almost 30% of management roles and only 16% are CEO’s. Superannuation balances for women are 42% less than those for men, leading to 55% of women receiving an aged pension after they turn 65. In 2016, 24% of Australian jobs were paid at the minimum or ‘award’ rate. Research has found that award-reliant women earn approximately 10% less per hour than award-reliant men. In Australia, 58% of organisations report having a formal policy and/or strategy on remuneration. Of these organisations, the proportion with pay equity objectives in their policy and/or strategy is only 36%.

The International Women’s Day 2019 report on Global attitudes towards gender equality was derived from 18,800 online adults aged 16-64 across 27 countries. One in five picked equal pay as the most important issue facing women and girls. Globally, the top action that people felt would help achieve quality between men and women is employers paying women the same as men for the same work.

Gender Discrimination Starts At the Job Interview

In Australia, gender discrimination occurs at hiring, when awarding promotion, and when providing access to training/professional development, limiting both the career advancement and earning capacity of female employees. Women experience breaks from the workforce to raise children and act as carers. Over time, gender discrimination and career breaks contribute to occupational segregation, in which men dominate higher-paying leadership and management roles, perpetuating the gender pay gap. Women continue to be overrepresented in lower-paid and insecure service industries such as aged care, hospitality and retail.

Causal Work Compounds Gender Equality Issues

Over the past thirty years, insecure work, incorporating casual work, fixed-term contracts, independent contracting and labour hire, has been steadily increasing in Australia. Insecure work provides employees with little economic security and a lack of control over their working lives. Currently, around 4 million workers in Australia are in insecure work, where women are overrepresented. Around 68% of men and 40% of women are working in a full-time job. The history of women’s increased participation in the workforce, over the past thirty years, saw women typically entering into part-time work offered only under casual conditions. Due to children and carer responsibilities, women often engage in insecure employment because they are seeking flexibility.

Family and Domestic Violence

Family violence doesn’t pick a specific socioeconomic or societal demographic. Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. Statistics show that the majority of women experiencing family violence are more likely to be in part-time or casual work, and subject to higher rates of job instability. Over time, women who have experienced family violence suffer impediments to career progression and lower superannuation. The compounding economic stress of family violence can keep people in abusive relationships. Conversely, job insecurity is a critical facilitator for those experiencing violence to leave violent relationships.

Child Rearing and Carer Responsibilities

Women tend to undertake the majority of unpaid domestic work and to care for children, a sick relative, or an elderly parent. In Australia, men perform on average less than five hours of unpaid domestic labour per week compared to between five and 14 hours performed by women. Women also face disproportionate disruption when having children, utilising 74% of all periods of paid parental leave. Interestingly, childbearing has been shown to have an ongoing negative impact on women’s wages, but conversely, a positive impact on men’s wages. Women are frequently forced to take a lower quality job or leave the workforce altogether because they are unable to access reduced hours working arrangements in their jobs. Once children are older and women want to increase their hours again after their caring responsibilities lessen or cease, they are often unable to do so.

The Impact on Mental Health and Wellbeing

Where there’s inequality, gender discrimination and family violence in our lives, wellbeing suffers and there’s a direct impact on women’s mental health. Women often experience higher rates of anxiety symptoms than men. While industrial relations improvements are being battled out on the political stage between unions, government and employers, it’s important that business places a lens on the wellbeing of their female employees, particularly those in casual and part-time roles and for those with children or who act as carers. Tap Into Safety’s mental health literacy training platform can help by offering workplace mental health training on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health and provide information on employee rights and strategies that they can use. As part of an ongoing wellbeing program Tap Into Safety helps business to manage workplace mental health for women by providing relevant and interactive training.  Why not try a free demo?

What Can Be Done?

The ACTU is calling for a review of the Fair Work Commission’s remuneration requirements and legislation, a return to penalty rates, minimum wage, increased paid parental leave, family-friendly work arrangements and an increase in compulsory employer superannuation contributions for women in part-time and casual roles. While changes to Australia’s industrial relations policy and legislation along these lines could be achieved at various levels, such steps would be long-term achievements. All of these are at a direct cost to business and a multi-faceted approach is required that helps business to continue to function while observing the move towards gender equality.

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