The Guardian • Issue #2091

HALF THE SKY

(equal) Pay Day overdue

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Men’s pay packets continue to outstrip those of women. Figures based on median income data released by The Australia Institute (TAI) on International Women’s Day revealed that overall, women earn $1.01 million less over their working lives than men,

The gender pay gap has a serious impact on retirement as women pay $136,600 less in superannuation over their working lives. Men have higher average salaries than women in 95 per cent of all occupations, including those where women dominate the workforce. For example, women account for 99 per cent of all midwives, and yet are paid on average 19 per cent less.

Another report released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in February reveals the gender pay gap for the median base wage for private companies with 100 or more employees. The base wage or salary does not include overtime payments, allowances, superannuation, and leave entitlements. Women are more likely to be casual employees and not receive these payments. They’re also less likely to do overtime in many industries. The data understates the gender pay gap.

The WGEA’s report, however, is revealing. For example, the construction industry has the largest gender pay gap at 25.2 per cent. This is a male-dominated industry, with women more likely to be doing lower paid work such as directing traffic or office work. At the other end of the scale is accommodation and food services with a gap of 1.2 per cent. This is not surprising as it is one of the lowest paid sectors, with many students and casual visa workers.

When the gender pay gap is looked at in terms of total income the data is more telling. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released last month show a gap of $469.60 per week. This reflects discrimination, a highly segregated workforce, and the fact that only 43 per cent of women work full time compared with 67 per cent of men. There are also barriers to women entering the workforce or working full-time such as lack of access to affordable early childhood education and care or responsibilities as unpaid carers.

What could change this? There are steps that would make a difference. The immediate introduction of equal pay for work of equal value, something we think we have, but don’t. Free universal access to early childhood education and care would make a big difference to women’s ability to earn more, as would employment of more workers in the community sector, and an increase in the length of paid parental leave. Abolishing tertiary education fees and running women’s access programs would give women more opportunities to go for higher-paid work. There should be no casual or labour hire employment for ongoing work.

There is another pay gap which is larger than the gender pay gap. Part-time union members earn 41 per cent more (an extra $117 per week) than non-union part-timers. Casual union members earn 24.5 per cent more (an extra $86 per week) than non-union casuals. Overall union members earn 26 per cent more than non-members.

So join your trade union, and join the fight for women’s rights and economic independence!

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