Women are paid the same as men for equal work

Linked on our blogs with Fair Work Australia, and with Australian Services Union ASU. – Published on The Australian National Affairs, by Judith Sloan and Mark Wooden, May 13, 2011.
See also on en.wikipedia: Equal pay for women.

THE president of the ACTU has described it as a “milestone in seeking wage justice for women in all lines of work across Australia”.

The NSW secretary of the Australian Services Union ASU says that, for the first time in 30 years, gender discrimination has been accepted in a case fighting against low wages.

They are referring to the equal remuneration case, handed down by Fair Work Australia (the Australian national workplace relations tribunal) last Monday. Covering non-government social and community services workers employed in mainly not-for-profit organisations, the decision in fact does not nominate any specific pay rises and calls for another round of submissions, particularly on the issue of funding.  

A careful reading of the decision suggests the term milestone may be a bit heroic at this stage. FWA found the arguments made, and the material presented, did not present a compelling case that the pay discrepancies observed between SACS workers and similar workers in the public sector were, in fact, the result of gender differences … //

… This is just daft: salary packaging clearly confers real advantages on recipients that are the equivalent of cash.

Based on research using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, we also know that when award-dependent workers are considered as a group, there is no gender pay gap.

In other words, award rates of pay for males and females are effectively equal. Were female award rates of pay to be lifted significantly, we might find submissions being made on behalf of men employed in male-intensive sectors, whose work would now look undervalued.

There is no doubting that the issues with which this decision is grappling are difficult. There are no clear principles that govern the determination of non-market rates of pay and the capacity, or perhaps the willingness, of governments to pay must be a consideration. But as David Gregory of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has pointed out, “The tribunal has worryingly left the door open to comparisons of public and private sector wage rates in the name of gender equity.”

The fact FWA has effectively reserved its decision to a later date and requires additional information on the costings of various proposals is important.

The potentially adverse consequences of handing down unfunded pay rises are, indeed, mentioned in the decision.

We will have to wait and see how this plays out. At a minimum, the tribunal is likely to recommend a phasing in of any pay rises. But the real danger is the precedent this decision sets, based on faulty analysis of the reasons for pay differences that are unrelated to gender.

The fact a group of female workers is paid less than another group of “carefully selected” workers does not necessarily mean the principle of equal remuneration is violated. (full text).

(Judith Sloan and Mark Wooden are with the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne).

Link: Egalité salariale: Autorisons les class actions pour les femmes, publié dans Nice to meet You, par Barbara Nativel /propos recueillis par Emilie Lévêque, le 11 Mars 2011.

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