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Federal govt does right thing on equal pay, pressure now on NSW to step up

Lee Rhiannon 10 Nov 2011

Blog post by Senator Lee Rhiannon

It’s a good day for low paid workers in the social and community sector, the majority of whom are women, as we inch closer to bridging the pay gap.  

Today, after a long negotiation with the ASU, Prime Minister Julia Gillard finally came on board today with support for the Equal Pay for Equal Work campaign. The Gillard government will fund its share of pay increases and will make a joint submission with the ASU to Fair Work Australia.

This is one step in a very long march for women’s equality.

In the 1920s, claims for equal pay were lodged by the Federated Liquor and Allied Trades Union, the Manufacturing Grocers Employees Federation and the Amalgamated Clothing and Allied Trades Union. In 1937 the Council of Action for Equal Pay was formed and in 1949 the Commonwealth Arbitration Court fixed women’s wage as 75% of their male counterparts. It wasn’t until 1972 that equal pay for work of equal value was granted – but only on paper.

I would like to pay tribute to the many many women who have campaigned through the years to make equal pay for equal work a human right. It is shameful that many women are still denied this right.

The average pay for women in Australia’s workforce stands at 17% less than the average pay for man, according to a 2010 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This case could lift the pay of about 150,000 workers in the social and community sectors.

Here’s a media release from Greens MP Adam Bandt welcoming today’s decision by the Prime Minister to put pay equity above the government’s self-imposed deadline of getting the budget back into surplus.

Pressure now sits squarely with NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to step up to the plate and commit to funding NSW’s fair share of the AUS’s Equal Pay for Equal Work case.

The Fair Work Australia Full Bench previously found that gender is a critical factor in explaining the pay gap between community sector workers and comparable public servants.

Women working in the community sector have taken home unfairly low wages for too long. They should not have to sit on their hands on those low wages for years until governments catch up.

The Equal Pay case will return to Fair Work Australia on 28 November. I look forward to an announcement from Premier O’Farrell that the NSW government will pay its fair share. 

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