The Guardian April 10, 2002

Historic victory for working women

by Andrew Jackson

"Today is a historic day for women in NSW and indeed, a very historic day 
for the trade union movement", announced Maurie O'Sullivan of the Public 
Service Association (PSA), as Librarians and Archivists won an "equal pay 
for work of equal value" case before the NSW Industrial Relations 
Commission (IRC). In some instances, this ruling will mean pay increases of 
up to 92 per cent.

"Today the PSA has struck a blow for social justice, for industrial justice 
and for gender justice. I am so proud of my Trade Union", Mr O'Sullivan 
said jubilantly

"Across the Public Sector in NSW, women's salaries overall average out at 
around 69 per cent of male earnings. The PSA is striving to redress this 
imbalance and (this) court case will be a major step forward in righting a 
social wrong and a gender wrong."

The full-bench IRC decision, the first handed down under NSW's "Equal 
Remuneration Principle", awarded the workers all their claims, including:

* substantial pay rises for Librarians, Library Technicians and Archivists 
of up to 26 per cent;

* the abolition of aged related entry-level salaries for Library 
Technicians, resulting in a salary increase of up to 92 per cent for the 
youngest workers;

* a single award with descriptors at each level and better career paths for 
workers; and

* recognition of the professionalism of Librarians and Archivists, placing 
them on par with legal officers and engineers.

The Full Bench found that not only had the responsibilities of these 
workers been historically undervalued but also there had been significant 
increases in the last decade or so in the demands and the skill and the 
output of these employees.

"We now have a mechanism for measuring the real value of work done 
predominantly by women.

"Have no doubt about it that had there been a majority of men employed in 
libraries over the years, the salaries would have been much higher", said 
Mr O'Sullivan.

This decision in favour of librarians sets a precedent for workers in other 
women dominated occupations, such as nurses, who waged a bitter campaign 
against an indifferent NSW Labor Government in 2001.

The "What's a nurse worth?" campaign culminated in state-wide action, 
including mass walk-outs, by 210 union branches as the Carr Government took 
a hostile stance towards the nurses. It refused a NSW Nurses Association 
(NSWNA) request for an urgent hearing before the NSW IRC to assess claims 
aimed at improving nurses' wages and conditions.

In NSW, Registered General Nurses earns $70 a week less than 
physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists, and $100 
per week less than other allied health professionals such as dieticians, 
social workers, and medical technologists.

This wage discrimination against nurses is ludicrous given that 
qualification in each of these professions requires the same amount of 
study (and in many of the exact same subjects), yet nurses are the ones who 
are actively saving lives on a minute-by-minute basis.

The NSWNA is claiming that nurses will need an immediate 15 per cent wage 
increase to redress this imbalance, and the introduction of qualifications 
allowances and retention allowances.

Their application to the IRC was lodged on October 17 when the State 
Government finally relented, and they expect their case to be heard in June 
this year.

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