Presentation of Victorian Pay Equity Working Party Report

By Commissioner Dominica Whelan

Report presented to Victorian Industrial Relations Minister Rob Hulls MP

Melbourne, International Women's Day, Tuesday 8 March 2005

Minister, members of the Working Party, supporters of pay equity for women.

Thank you for joining us today.

Minister, on behalf of the Victorian Pay Equity Working Party I am pleased to be able to present to you our Report - Advancing Pay Equity.

The Report is based on the input and deliberations of the Working Party informed by the substantial and authoritative research undertaken for us by URCOT.

In many ways it is a bad news report.

It shows that despite the significant gains made by women from the 1972 Equal Pay Case, that the gap between men's and women's wages has essentially remained the same since the mid-1980s.

There are of course many reasons for this.

They are outlined in the Report and examined in more detail in the research material produced by URCOT.

One of these reasons is the over representation of women amongst the growing army of casual labour which now represents almost 30% of the workforce - and is predicted to increase. Women are also 72% of part-time employees, a group whose hourly rates of pay are lower than those of both male and female full-time employees.

Another is the historical undervaluation of skills traditionally regarded as feminine attributes, such as the ability to communicate well and to care for children and the elderly.

Yet another is the substantially greater dependence of women on minimum wage regulation in setting their actual rates of pay.

At a time when there are voices in this community calling for a reduction in the minimum wage and a greater role for market forces in determining wage rates it is of even greater importance that we do not abandon the goals of fairness and equity for women workers.

In this regard I note the timely publication of Elizabeth Wynhausen's book - Dirt Cheap: Life at the Wrong End of the Job Market, which graphically describes the reality for many women workers who depend on minimum wage regulation.

Pay equity is a human rights issue but it is not just a human rights issue. It is about industrial justice but it is not just about that either.

Pay inequity has profound and long-lasting social and economic effects.

It impacts on the decisions young men and women make about family formation - when they can afford to have children and if so, how many.

It condemns many women to dependence on the pension in their old age.

We are presenting this report at a childcare centre. It is a place with which I am familiar. My daughter attended here some five years ago.

She is now a pretty typical nine-year-old girl. She likes playing with dolls and making jewellery - and going to Auskick in the winter. She has yet to encounter gender inequality in her life.

If we don't act now about pay inequity however not only our daughters but our granddaughters will quite rightly say, you knew what the problem was so why didn't you do something about it?

It is also fitting that we are presenting you with this Report on International Women's Day - a day which commemorates when women clothing workers in New York left their machines to march for a fair day's wage. That was almost a century ago.

The good news is that the Working Party has come up with a number of ideas that we believe will assist Victoria to advance the goal of gender pay equity.

There are 20 recommendations in all. They are addressed not just to government, but also to employers and to unions and to all three in ways that they can act collectively and cooperatively.

The recommendations centre around a Plan of Action for Pay Equity which can be integrated with and work along side other government initiatives.

The main mechanism for carrying out the Plan proposed is a Pay Equity Unit to assist government agencies, employers, employees and unions to understand and analyse where pay inequity exists and to develop mechanisms to address it. This can be done, for example, through pay equity audits.

The recommendations recognise the need for education about pay inequity to be integrated into the existing training initiatives of union and employer organisations.

They recognise that action is necessary at a workplace level and, to be effective, must become part of the normal enterprise level mechanisms for job assessment and workplace bargaining.

The recommendations acknowledge that as there is no single factor causing pay inequity there is no single action which will cure it. Providing support for women entering non-traditional jobs and examining ways to improve access to training for part-time workers are just two examples which can have an impact.

The recommendations also look at ways which the State Government can effect legislative change - particularly in the Equal Opportunity Act - but also by the representations it makes to the Federal Government.

We also propose in recognition of the fact that it is frequently in areas of low wages, low levels of union organisation, and small business employment, that the biggest problems exist that a fund be made available to assist employers, employees and unions to conduct gender pay audits, address pay inequity in enterprise bargaining and initiate proceedings aimed at establishing gender pay equity.

We commend all of the recommendations to you. We are confident that they are all achievable and that your government will approach them with the same commitment and enthusiasm with which you launched this Inquiry.

Minister - I present you with Advancing Pay Equity - Their Future Depends on It.

Commissioner Whelan is a member of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and chair of the Victorian Pay Equity Working Party.

The Working Party's report and associated information about the Pay Equity Inquiry is available on the Industrial Relations Victoria web site at www.irv.vic.gov.au.