Equity in the workplace: how do we get there?
The issue of the gender pay gap is well documented. However, as Assistant General Secretary Rebecca Sisson reports, the gender pay gap itself is only part of the discussion around issues of employment and gender.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) points to 2015/2016 data which shows that while there have been some improvements in recent years, the gender pay gap (that is the gap in wages between the average male worker and the average female) remains at approximately $27,000 per year.
Workplace policies and employment conditions which recognise the specific needs of employees, and particularly women, are thus an essential piece of the puzzle.
Employers play a key role
The position of early childhood sector employer C&K in their current negotiations for Branch Centre employees is to remove the existing, hard fought and long standing provision around superannuation co-contributions. The removal of this provision would see future C&K employees, who are prominently women, financially penalised at the time of retirement, more so than they already would be.
Differences in superannuation earnings continue to be a point of disparity for a majority of working women, with projections by Industry Super Australia pointing to gender differences in superannuation earnings at retirement of as much as $170,000 by 2030.
This disparity is, in part, tied to the gender pay gap, but also is a flow on effect from the movement of women in and out of the workforce while raising families and increasingly undertaking caring responsibilities for elderly parents.
Questioning paid parental leave
The issue of the movement of women in and out of the workforce while raising their family has also been a topic of media and political discussion in recent months with attempts by the federal government to wind back the government’s paid parental leave scheme.
The scheme as it currently stands, provides 18 weeks of leave paid at the minimum wage rate of $672.70 per week upon the birth of a child. The position of the federal government is that access to the scheme should be discounted for any woman who receives a payment from their employer.
This position ignores the initial intention of the scheme; to work complementarily with existing workplace parental leave entitlements to allow the parents to spend at least six months at home with their new baby.
A modified scheme is now seemingly inevitable with negotiations with cross benches currently underway and changes to the scheme anticipated later in 2017.
Employees with the most to lose
under the proposed changes are those working in female dominated sectors such as health and education. It is in these sectors that union members have fought hard over successive rounds of collective bargaining to obtain enhancements to parental leave provisions, many times at the expense of other improvements to employment conditions or higher wage increases. If these changes to the government paid parental leave happen, those sacrifices will have been for nothing.
However, WGEA points to some movement, both in attitude and policy, on some issues relevant to gender and employment.
Acknowledging domestic violence leave
IEUA-QNT members have seen this first hand over the past 12 months with enhanced provisions around paid domestic violence leave now part of the collective agreements for employees in the sector.
Domestic violence leave is essential to ensure that employees in the most vulnerable situations remain connected to their workplace and maintain their income while navigating through very difficult circumstances.
IEUA-QNT members will fight for the inclusion of domestic violence leave provisions in upcoming negotiations in 2017 and beyond.
Valuing women in the workforce
Women make up half of our national workforce. Women are the majority in key sectors such as health and education.
Additionally, employment conditions and policies which seek to address issues of gender disadvantage have a positive impact on productivity in workplaces and national growth as well a positive impact on the ability of employers to attract and retain high quality employees.
It is vital that we fight hard against any attempts to wind back conditions, both in our workplaces and our communities, which seek to financially disadvantage women and provide a disincentive for full and equal workforce participation.
This article was extracted from the February 2017 edition of Independent Voice.