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Home > News > Time to stop short changing women: Equal Pay Day

Time to stop short changing women: Equal Pay Day

gender_gap.jpg4 September 2015 is Equal Pay Day

This date represents the number of extra days women have to work after the end of the last financial year in order to earn the same amount that men earn in twelve months.

Women are effectively losing a year’s income every 5.5 years.  It’s time to address this unfairness. 

Gender pay gap - does it matter?

Based on data for May 2015  - a male’s average weekly wage was $1591.60 per week, while a female’s wage was $1307.40 per week.

There is a difference of $284.20 per average weekly earnings between a man and a woman.

Yes, it matters

This national gender pay gap has hovered between 15% and 19 % for the past two decades.

This persistent disparity in pay between Australian men and women is the key factor contributing to women's financial disadvantage compared to men.

Isn't it just a matter of choice?

No. Strong structural factors play a role in shaping employment outcomes for women.

Factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include:

  • Women and men working in different industries and different jobs. Female dominated industries and jobs have attracted lower wages than male dominated industries and jobs;
  • Women are more likely than men to work part time or flexibly because they still undertake most of society’s unpaid caring work;
  • The lack of women in senior position roles;
  • The resistance of employers to provide quality part time or flexible senior leadership positions;  and
  • Women’s more precarious attachment to the workforce (largely due to their unpaid caring responsibilities).

Highly educated women are missing out on leadership positions

Despite the fact that 56% of university graduates are women , women are dramatically under-represented in leadership roles despite higher levels of education.

According to ABS Gender Indicators  women are under-represented:

  • in organisational leadership roles, 17.3% of CEOs of non public sector organisations are women;
  • in Parliament, 30% of federal parliamentarians are women;
  • on government boards, 34% of commonwealth judges and magistrates are women;  and
  • in public recognition, 25% of Companion or Officer of the Order of Australia are women.

Leadership Roles in Education sector

This stark imbalance between men and women in leadership levels is also prominent in the education sector.

The proportion of leadership roles in schools held by women does not reflect the proportion of women on staff.

While 81% of primary staff are women, only 57% of leadership positions are held by women.

Australia is failing to translate women’s education into workforce leadership participation.

The cost of being a woman

So the Gender Pay Gap is influenced by a number of interrelated work, family, and societal factors including stereotypes about the work women and men ‘should do” and the way women and men “should engage in the workforce”.

Indeed, “simply being a woman” – that is the discrimination or other factors related to being a woman – is the main contributing factor to the gender pay gap.

According to research conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling in 2009  into the impact of the gender pay gap on the economy, “simply being a woman” accounted for 60% of the difference between women and men’s earnings. This report outweighed the effects of industry segregation.  The cost of ‘being a woman” can be seen in the penalties women experience in the workplace when they are pregnant and again when they return to work after birth of their child.

Discrimination in the Work Place:  A real experience

The Australian Human Rights Commission Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review 2014 found evidence that pregnancy and return to work discrimination is widespread in our workplaces.  

In fact, one in two mothers reported experiencing discrimination at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

In the IEU submission to the AHRC report, IEU members reported that they were denied access to flexible work arrangements, in some cases being forced to resign from their position. Other members were unlikely to regain their formal earning capacity as they were denied access to leadership positions.

Research has shown that 70% of women returning from parental leave opt to work part time and that a woman returning from one year of maternity leave can expect a 5% decrease in earnings compared to before going on leave.  A three year gap will result in a fall in earnings of over 10%.

Accumulated Poverty in Retirement

The current superannuation scheme effectively takes the gendered income inequalities that exist during people’s working lives and magnifies them in retirement.

The AHRC report has shown that the average superannuation payouts to women are just over half that of men (57%), with many women having little or no superannuation. 

This is despite more women participating in the paid workforce than ever before.

There are significant implications arising from this entrenched gender pay inequality.  The failure to redress the financial disadvantage of women will result in ongoing dependence on the aged pension.  As women live longer than men and are more likely to rely on the aged pension as their sole source of income in retirement, the need for effective policy solutions is pressing.

Government cuts to paid parental leave further disadvantages women

The Abbott government’s attack to paid parental leave is a further compounding effect to any wage disadvantage that women experience.

The Abbott government has sought to bring in budget cuts to the federal government’s paid parental leave scheme.  Under the latest budget, 80,000 new mothers across Australia will be prevented from accessing $11,500 that was once available under the government paid parental leave scheme.  This represents nearly half of all current eligible women, many of whom are IEU members.

Moving from rhetoric to action

Women need more than the simplistic rhetoric about women’s workforce participation that is offered by governments and employers.

We need honest discussion about the barriers to women's engagement with work.

We need serious commitments for legislative action for workplace flexibility especially for leadership positions.

We need ongoing commitments to paid parental leave so that working parents can share their family responsibilities.

We need adequate superannuation provisions which provide dignity in retirement.

On Equal Pay Day IEU members call upon government and employers to stop short-changing women and take positive action to address the inequality.

Authorised by Terry Burke, Independent Education Union of Australia – Queensland & Northern Territory Branch, Brisbane.