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News News Equal Pay Day

Saturday the 4th of September marks Equal Pay Day. This date is representative of the extra 66 days women workers in Australian have to work after the end of the financial year to receive the same average pay check as men.

Pay equity is currently going backwards - in WA the pay gap between men and women is currently a staggering 23%. For information on ways you can recognise Equal Pay Day see the fact sheet below or visit the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workforce Agency website here.


Also see below for an article on the pay gap by UnionsWA Secretary, Simone McGurk.

Women in Australia won ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ in 1969. Federal legislation to ban discrimination on the basis of sex was introduced in 1984. Despite both these hard-fought for achievements the pay gap between men and women is now higher than it was at the height of the women's liberation movement. It is also growing.


September 4 is Equal Pay Day. This date is chosen as it marks the extra 66 days women in Australia must work after the end of the financial year to earn the same average pay as men. The pay gap between men and women in Australia currently sits at 18%. In WA the gap is even greater at 23%.

The gap exists despite women performing better in formal education than their male counterparts and, in general, being more highly qualified.

There has been extensive commentary in recent years on how girls consistently out-perform their male counterparts in school and go on to be over-represented in higher education. Women are the majority (54.8%) of all tertiary students and the majority of citizens with a bachelor’s degree or better.

Incredibly this overachievement for females in schooling then translates to lower starting salaries when they enter the workforce. In 2009 female graduate starting salaries were on average $3000 less per year than that of their male equivalents.

There is a range of contributing factors to the pay differential and these include the fact that women often ‘choose’ to work less hours and to take time out to be primary carers.

However one of the biggest factors in pay equity is the continuing gender bias we have in Australia regarding jobs and industries. Women work in large numbers in so called ‘feminised jobs’ in human resources, education, health and welfare. Men, on the other hand dominate in the increasingly highly-paid resource sector - a factor that would account for the greater pay differential in WA compared to the rest of Australia.

This is the new battleground for gender equality.

While 41 years of equal pay legislation means that women must legally be paid the same as men for performing the same job – the reality is that men and women in Australia often don’t work in the same industries. The heart of the problem is that Australia has a highly gender segregated jobs market. There is a distinct prejudice at play that defines “women’s work” as financially less valuable then “men’s work.”

Research undertaken in 1999 showed that women employed in industries that were close to 100% female dominated earned 32 percent less per hour than women with otherwise identical characteristics in industries that were close to 100% male dominated.

The worst example of this under-valuing of women’s work comes from the social and community sector. This sector is close to 90% female dominated. Its workers often have multiple degrees and years of experience. Despite this they are commonly paid at rates more than $20,000 below the going rates for people doing work with similar responsibilities in the public sector.

These highly trained and experienced workers in the community sector work with the most vulnerable people in our community, often in high-stress environments. In this sector a role that involves coordinating services, managing staff, applying for funding, managing budgets and grant funding, developing and managing multiple projects and running centres that provide a myriad of essential services to the community is commonly paid an annual salary of around $55,000. As a comparison, project managers in the male-dominated construction industry have an average salary of just under $100,000. The argument is not that project managers should be paid less but that, as a society, we hugely under-value the work done in industries and professions that are female-dominated.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) is currently running a campaign on behalf of social and community workers to have work of equal value paid at an equal rate. The ASU says that community sector work has traditionally been seen as “women’s work” and their wages have been restricted as a result. The union has lodged a test case in Fair Work Australia using the new Equal Remuneration laws now available in the Act.  Nationally, the case could improve the pay of about 200,000 community workers. As well as a much deserved pay increase for community workers, this case is attempting to break down the tradition in Australia of under-valuing “women’s work.”

Importantly, things haven’t improved at the top either. Over the past four years in the board positions of the top 200 ASX companies we have seen a decline in the proportion of board directorships held by women, and a decline in the proportion of companies with two or more female directors. The proportion of companies with greater than 25 percent of female directors has halved over the same period and there was an increase in the proportion of companies with no female directors.

The history books will tell you that equal pay for men and women was won 40 years ago. Sadly, the majority of working Australian women will tell you a different story - the battle is far from over. 

Simone McGurk
Secretary, UnionsWA.

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