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According to merit?/Diversity: Transparency on pay of men and women

According to merit?/Diversity: Transparency on pay of men and women

By Caroline Jones

Human Rights Justice 

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Women’s average full-time base salary in Australia is 17.3 per cent less than men’s.

In September last year, the Australian Greens introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2015 to the federal parliament. The gender pay gap (GPG) is defined as the difference between women and men’s average earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. In Australia, women’s average full-time base salary across all industries and occupations is 17.3 per cent less than men’s. You can learn how the GPG is calculated by visiting the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) website.

The Bill seeks to reduce the GPG by promoting pay transparency. Specifically, by introducing a clause into the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that: “A term of a modern award, an enterprise agreement or a contract of employment has no effect to the extent that the term: (a) prohibits an employee from disclosing the amount of, or information about, the employee’s pay or earnings; or (b) permits, or has the effect of permitting, an employer to take adverse action against an employee if the employee discloses the amount of, or information about, the employee’s pay or earnings.”

Eighteen submissions have been made regarding the Bill, including by Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL), the WGEA, and various academics. Professor Beth Gaze, of the University of Melbourne, believes that such provisions are essential for bringing to light discriminatory practices. She refers to the famous US case of Ledbetter v Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co in which Ms Ledbetter was paid less than men working at the same level for nearly 20 years, only becoming aware of this through an anonymous tip-off. VWL’s convenor Stephanie Milione also endorses the Bill, noting that the amendment would be especially welcome in the legal sector where the GPG sits starkly at 34.5 per cent.1

Interestingly, the WGEA only cautiously supports the Bill, acknowledging that there is no hard evidence linking such measures to a lower GPG. However, the WGEA recognises that the amendment would probably improve women’s position in pay negotiations and make employers more accountable.

Parliament was due to issue a report on the Bill in May. Unfortunately, the relevant parliamentary committee ceased to exist, by virtue of the double dissolution for a general election. VWL hopes that the newly elected government acts promptly to revive the lapsed inquiry into the Bill, and that closing the GPG remains high on the political agenda.


Caroline Jones is an executive committee member of Victorian Women Lawyers.
1. Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Data Explorer at http://data.wgea.gov.au/industries/115.


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