Equity and fairness for women
I know this room contains so many people who have been consistent and passionate advocates for ending gender pay inequity, which reduces womens economic security.
Australian women still earn over 17 per cent less than men in weekly terms.
Disturbingly, the hourly gender pay gap is at its highest level since May 1996.
Some industries fare even worse in the finance and insurance industry the pay gap is 31.9 per cent.
And it got even worse under Work Choices:
Take it or leave it AWAs stripped away conditions like overtime and penalty rates without any compensation to the employee.
75 per cent did not even provide for a guaranteed wage increase.
Women working full time on AWAs took home on average $87.40 per week less than their colleagues working on collective agreements.
It is a matter of deep regret that the Leader of the Opposition has been so clear about his intention to reintroduce these anti woman laws.
Paid Parental Leave scheme
The cornerstone of our equity policies is the historic introduction of a Paid Parental Leave scheme. This will prepare Australia for the economic and social challenges of the future.
The Government will soon introduce legislation establishing a governmentfunded scheme for new parents, so that from 1 January 2011, eligible employees will receive up to 18 weeks of taxable payments paid at the level of the National Minimum Wage.
The scheme will support stronger families and give children the best start in life. It will foster increased workforce participation by helping women maintain their careers. It is well thought through and fully funded unlike the Leader of the Oppositions hastily cobbled together sham plan which is nothing more than a great big tax which would flow to prices and put more pressure on working women and working families.
Weve taken important steps towards addressing the gender pay gap and helping women to balance work and family with the Fair Work Act:
We got rid of the Work Choices rip-offs - no more AWAs.
We established an employment safety net that cant be undercut.
We now have an annual minimum wage review process that fairly balances economic and social factors.
We know that some female dominated areas of the work force have struggled in get the benefits that enterprise bargaining can bring. So we introduced special provisions to help facilitate multi-employer bargaining for low paid employees.
The Fair Work system has new protections from discrimination in the workplace including on the grounds of pregnancy, sex, and now for the first time, caring responsibilities.
The new right for parents to request flexible working arrangements, such as changes in hours of work, changes to the pattern of work or changes in the location of work will help parents with the juggle between work and family. And new parents also have a new option to request to extend parental leave by a further 12 months;
We extended the equal remuneration provisions to include the right to equal pay for work of equal or comparative value: a more generous test allowing comparisons between comparable categories of work where the femaledominated category may have been historically under-valued.
ASU pay equity claim
The Australian Services Union, the Australian Workers Union, the Health Services Union and others will be bringing forward the first claim seeking to utilise these more beneficial pay equity provisions for their members in the social and community services sector.
We know this is a sector that has historically been award reliant. It is a strongly female dominated workforce performing incredibly valuable work with the most vulnerable in our community.
I congratulate the unions involved for bringing this important test case to Fair Work Australia.
- We know that all leaps in workplace standards - like maternity leave, superannuation, consultation obligations and redundancy pay - have been achieved by unions who have been prepared to have a red hot go on behalf of their members.
- There are of course no guarantees in a case of this kind. The tribunal is independent of government and the parties, and in all such cases, there is uncertainty and risk. But fortune favours the brave.
- I am confident that Fair Work Australia, our new independent umpire, will consider all of the evidence and arguments put to it and will deal with the case in a professional and impartial manner.
- The Commonwealth will play its part, assisting the tribunal and the parties by using its research capacity to present them with the most accurate and comprehensive data on gender pay equity issues in the sector.
With only 17 per cent of the workforce award reliant, the safety net is no longer even the most significant part of the puzzle.
Gender equity in the workplace and in society more generally touches all aspects of public policy and crosses nearly all ministerial portfolios. Policies and responses are inter-woven.
After 11 years of inaction by the Liberals, we are getting on with the job. As well as all the reforms already in place as I have outlined, we have commissioned three pieces of major policy development work that will guide our future policies and actions:
- The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and Workplace Relations report Making it Fair. Thanks to Sharryn for her leadership.
- The review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency undertaken for Tanya.
- And the Senate Committee report into the review of the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act.
These are three very substantial bodies of policy work and the Government is working hard to ensure our responses to them are coordinated, comprehensive and make a real difference to the lives of Australian women.
As we build on this work, I know we will be supported and encouraged by the many capable Australian women who are genuinely committed to pursuing equity for women in our society.
Thanks for inviting me to join you here today.