The Guardian • Issue #2056


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2056
Half the Sky column logo

Decades of struggles have seen women make some progress in closing the wage gap, but they still face considerable barriers to achieving wage equity and full workforce participation in Australia. The gender gap is often quoted as 13.3 per cent, but this is misleading. The comparison only applies to people working in full-time positions and does not include bonuses and overtime payments which men are more likely to receive. Women form 67 per cent of part time workers. When actual average wages are taken into consideration the gender gap is around 30 per cent or in dollar terms $474.40 a week or $24,668.80 per annum. (ABS February 2023) In addition 60.1 per cent of females are in paid employment compared with 68.3 per cent of men. None of these statistics consider the many hours of unpaid labour and family and domestic responsibilities that women carry out. Australia’s highly gender-segregated workforce undervalues and underpays “women’s work.” In addition, men have higher average salaries than women in 95 per cent of all occupations including those where women dominate the workforce. On average women earn $1 million less than men over their lifetime.

These and many other factors not only affect women throughout their working life, but have an impact during retirement, as women on average retire with 24 per cent less in their superannuation balances than their male counterparts. Taking time out to have children or care for family members can result in years with no superannuation contributions. But that’s not all. Women only receive one third of the total government tax concessions on super (men receive the other two-thirds). Yet Australian women live on average four years longer than men, and with their lower super balances, they run out of super much earlier.

The inequities compound to the point where more than a third of single women over 60 live in income poverty and according to the latest census data the number of women over 55 experiencing homelessness increased by 31 per cent over the five years prior.

It is time for the highly skilled and important work carried out by women in the care economy including aged care, early childhood education and care, disability support, and other social services be recognised and valued. This includes pay equity, job security, appropriate workloads, career progression, and work health and safety. Government-funded parental leave should be raised to 52 weeks by 2030, to be shared between parents as they choose. Early childhood education and care should be free and accessible to all with the funding of additional places in the public and community sectors.

The age pension should be universal and raised to the level of the minimum wage. Reforms to superannuation, should include an end to its use for tax rorting and the establishment of a national superannuation fund which workers could join. This would offer a defined benefits scheme with lifetime guaranteed and indexed payments during payment. This would be in contrast to all the risks involved in managing a lump sum.

How to win this? By industrial relations reform including the right to strike and united struggle. How to fund this? Dump AUKUS and the nuclear submarines. End the US alliance. Abolish fossil fuel subsidies.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More