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Today is Equal Pay Day, marking the 59 additional days from the end of the previous financial year that women, on average, must work to earn the same as men earnt that year.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the new national gender pay gap for the six months to May 2020 is 14.0%, a difference of $253.60 per week for full-time employees.

The Agency said this figure is unchanged from the previous two years.

Healthcare, particularly aged care and the community sector, which has a predominantly female workforce, has one of the worst sector-wide pay gaps in Australia, at 21.3%, according to the ACTU.

Further, the union said women in this sector and community sectors were systemically underpaid and often had to deal with extreme levels of insecure work.

Adding to the disparity, WGEA Director Libby Lyons said the COVID-19 crisis was having a disproportionate impact on women.

“Data would suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and men differently. More Australian women than men have lost their jobs since COVID-19 struck. A number of female-dominated industries have suffered the worst of the job losses. All the evidence we have suggests that COVID-19 is seriously jeopardising women’s long-term economic and financial security and workforce participation,” Ms Lyons said.

Alarmingly, throughout the GFC, Australia’s last economic downturn, the gender pay gap shot up 2.0 percentage points from 15.6% in November 2007 to 17.6% in November 2009, Ms Lyons said.

“It took us ten years to bring that pay gap back down to where it is today. We cannot afford to see a repeat of this as we face our first economic recession in almost 30 years. It will be a disaster for the economy and a calamity for Australian women.”

The ACTU said the gender pay gap, the pandemic and the Morrison government’s response were on track to leave a legacy of increasing disparity between men and women’s pay and retirement savings.

In recovery from COVID-19, the government must address structural problems including insecure work which has disproportionately affected women, leaving a third of the workforce without sick leave during the pandemic, the union said.

Additionally, the ACTU said the government’s super early access scheme had forced people to fund their own crisis response which has had a disastrous impact on the retirement savings of women, who have been forced to raid their savings more often than men.

To address the issue, the ACTU has put forward a National Economic Reconstruction Plan which would put working people at the centre of the recovery and ensure that we rebuild a workforce with stronger rights for working people and less insecure work. It includes access to free universal childcare.
Addressing equal pay requires investment in secure jobs, and improving women’s legal rights to win equal pay, argued the union.