Equal Pay Remains A Myth (10/06/2010)

Australian's who think that the fight for equal pay was won in the 1970's are due for a reality check, writes Narelle Clay AM.Equal_Pay_ASU_300w.jpg

ON Thursday 10 June, thousands of people will hit the streets around Australia in the largest equal pay demonstration this country has seen since the 1970s.

Equal pay? Wasn't that sorted out in the Seventies?

    • Photos: View photo's from Sydney's Pay Up rally for equal pay here.

In a liberated country like Australia you would have thought so. But the facts are there to bust the myth right out of the water.

It's a shameful reality that despite making up half the workforce, women are still paid, on average, 17 per cent less than men. That equates to more than a million dollars less over a lifetime.

Women are now more likely to have a tertiary qualification than men, but women graduates will earn $2000 less than men after graduation and $7500 less five years after graduation.

Fewer than 2 per cent of companies have a female CEO and only one-in-12 board directors are women. Women retire with less than half the amount of savings in their superannuation accounts as men.

And under the former Coalition government's WorkChoices laws, the pay gap widened for the first time in 25 years as women lost penalty rates and conditions, and minimum wages were cut in real terms.

The marked difference in pay levels is most evident in the community services sector, where women make up a large majority of the workforce.

These are the skilled professionals Australians rely on in times of crisis.

They include those employed in women's refuges, family support services, drug and alcohol services, aged care and migrant resource centres.

Domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse are all in a day's work for these women - yet they are paid 37 per cent less than those doing the same work in hospitals and the public service.

In today's society these roles are more important than ever, yet because they have traditionally been considered "women's work", wages have remained low.

For too long, community sector workers have been undervalued, underpaid and not properly respected.

A woman with qualifications, 25 years experience as a co-ordinator and counsellor, on call every evening earns $31.74 per hour . An 18-year-old male, Year 10 school certificate, first job working at a recycling plant earns more.

What are our politicians doing about it? Not enough to bring women's wages up to acceptable levels.

But there is hope. The Australian Services Union is launching a test case under the new Fair Work Australia system.

The case will impact the working lives of about 200,000 community workers and already has the support of Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The real test for the Government will be whether it will make the funds available to allow workers in the community sector to achieve wage justice, without forced staff or resources cuts.

If the test case succeeds, it could mean a 30 per cent pay rise for the hundreds of thousands of community workers.

A successful test case would not only be a win for pay equity, but would also provide positive recognition of the work undertaken by women working in the community sector.

That's something they have been denied for too long.

So today's action around the nation is a celebration of what we have achieved - and a show of support for the hard-working women who are pushing the cause of gender equality to a new level.

Narelle Clay AM, is the CEO of the Southern Youth and Family Services Association.

This opinon was originally published in the Illawarra Mercury.