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Women are paid the same as men for equal work

By Judith Sloan and Mark Wooden - posted Monday, 23 May 2011

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 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 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.

Equal remuneration orders under the Fair Work Act are based on the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value. The inclusion of comparable value is new to this statute. Unhelpfully and tautologically, the Act states that "equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value means equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal or comparable value".

It is at least clear that we are dealing with gender differences in remuneration.

It should also be noted that under the act it is not necessary to prove different remuneration levels have been established on a discriminatory basis. Using this section of the act, the unions' submission is simple: SACS workers are overwhelmingly female (86 per cent); their work is undervalued; their work is undervalued because they are overwhelmingly female.

Therefore, FWA should order a (sizeable) adjustment to their rates of pay based on the principle of equal remuneration.

One of the problems with this argument is that the group with which the SACS workers are being compared is also overwhelmingly female. That is, the vast majority of those working in similar occupations in the public sector is also female.


This much is accepted by FWA. Quoting from the decision: "The fact that there are differences in general rates of remuneration between one workforce and another workforce made up predominantly of women may suggest that factors other than gender have contributed to the differences."

The decision then goes on to point out that public sector workers benefit from being part of larger bargaining units that include men. It also notes that, "the wage comparisons advanced have not involved a male comparator group".

The decision issued by FWA is actually very hard to follow. It seems to say that it is not about gender, but then it says it is.

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Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article appeared in The Australian on 
20 May 2011. 



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About the Authors

Judith Sloan is Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

Mark Wooden is professorial fellow and deputy director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Judith Sloan
All articles by Mark Wooden

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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