Operation Pay Gulf

Battle Stations Ladies – Code Pay!

pay equalityAlmost a year to the day, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s annual review inspired me to blog about the never-changing Australian history of pay inequity. This year’s annual review is a carbon copy fizzer.

How will anything every change if namby-pamby management of same old, same old issues never changes?

In short, the pay gulf is down 1.1% from 2017 but full-time working women can still expect to earn 16.2% (or $15, 457) less than men, per year.

This reeks of corporate and political complacency towards working women in Australia. And nobody appears to have any definitive strategies in place to close the gulf.

This paragraph alone from The Guardian report sums up why Australia needs to play Follow the Leader with Iceland and introduce national legislation to mandate equal pay for women:

Michaelia Who?

Former Minister For Women Michaelia Cash certainly won’t be remembered as a mover and shaker in the pay inequity arena, or a lady-like, kind and compassionate role model material for aspiring young leaders. One can only hope that her replacement Kelly O’Dwyer has the gumption to take appropriate action on behalf of Australian women and their daughters.

For old time’s sake, I revisited the Federal Government’s Office For Women website to see if anything had changed. While proposed legislation to mandate equal pay for women was notably absent, it was good to see several constructive initiatives in the works.

Note to politicians who care: ‘A Husband is not a Retirement Plan‘ needs to be taught in high schools:


Equally curious to see what was going on in the Office For Men, I searched high and low but found no trace. Must have been dreaming. Maybe next year.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to publish last year’s blog again. Because I can. And because next to nix has changed in the ladies’ pay department. (Just ignore the bits about Michaelia Cash, apart from the fact that she still expects her lawyers to ‘set aside’ the subpoena demanding that she give evidence in the Federal Court in 2019. Read the latest ABC update here.)

In my previous life as a public servant the Information Services Branch of South Australia Police, I dealt with numerous subpoenas and was informed that even the Police Commissioner risked imprisonment for failing to appear when subpoenaed. What makes Michaelia think she qualifies for a special exemption?

And what was that I heard about an inevitable green light for the establishment of a Federal ICAC? I digress. But that’s another blog.

2017 Blog

Get Me Vida Goldstein On The Line
pay equality

Vida Goldstein

Ever since Iceland’s sassy sisterhood set the stage for world first national legislation to mandate equal pay for women, I expected at least one Australian female politician to champion the country’s first draft pay equity bill. Sadly, not a peep.

Baffled by the silence surrounding this terminal issue, apart from the annual media cry which predictably follows the release of same-old gender inequity data, I emerge from my self-imposed political oblivion to find out why.

Knowing little about Australia’s political history or our female politicians apart from a scripted news grab here and there, the Australian Parliament’s website is my first port of call.

  • Of 224 federal politicians, 74 are women. 31 Senators, 43 Members.
  • More than enough to collectively raise gracious hell about pay inequity, one would think. (Iceland has 41% female representation.)

Next, Google search Minister For Women. Oh dear. ‘Is Michaelia Cash a worse Minister for Women than Tony Abbott?’ screams a Sydney Morning Herald headline. Determined to maintain an objective view, I resist the temptation to read the article.

Instead I opt for The Minister for Women’s webpage, as perfectly coiffed as Michaelia Cash and accessorised with empowering female-friendly headlines. ‘Delivering Opportunities and Support for Australian Women’ captures my attention. I expect to read the magic words ‘pay inequity’. Not a peep.

The magic words I seek are also invisible on The Office For Women’s home page but I eventually locate a 2016 press release regarding the latest gender pay gap figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. ‘The new data was encouraging but the Government’s focus on implementing policies to further reduce the stubbornly high gap is unwavering.’ says Cash.

Stamp your stiletto a little louder, please Michaelia. We don’t need any more drawn-out, ineffective best practice policies. Australia needs pay equity for women enshrined in law.

Another glossy government publication catches my eye. The 72-page 2017 Gender Equity Insights Report.

In a nutshell:

  • The overall gender pay gap is 17.7% (or $16,219).
  • The total remuneration pay gap is 23.1% (or $26,853.)
  • A pay chasm of $93K exists at top tier managerial levels.

The placid Forward by Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director, Libby Lyons opens with: ‘It really is time that we challenge the way we work.’

Great to see a woman at the helm but what stopped her from choosing more empowering words? Something like: ‘It really is time to draft a pay equity bill that makes it illegal in Australia’s public and private sectors to pay women less than men.’

Could the mindsets of Icelandic and Australian women be that different? Aren’t we all part of a greater Sisterhood? The complacency factor baffles me. Perhaps the female inaction has something to do with the plump parliamentary salaries. Michaelia’s goldmine hovers around the $350,000 mark (plus expenses) while the base salary of Australian backbenchers has just risen to $203,020.

I don’t begrudge anyone who earns top dollar but given that the core function of a politician is to represent the people, one can’t help but wonder why Australia still has a ‘stubbornly high’ pay gap. Why pay inequity still lives in the Terminal Issues Basket.

Further digging unearths some intriguing views of political rabble-rousers in the comments section of an ABC opinion piece about the under-representation of women in parliament:

  • Female candidates are ‘selected by parties for docility rather than merit.’
  • ‘Parties generally select candidates based on internal party politics.’
  • ‘The Coalition parties do not have a mechanism for increasing women’s participation, despite ongoing advocacy by women on the floor of conferences to address the problem.’

Where Have I been?

The opinion piece in question was penned by Dr Rae Cooper & Sally Hanna Osborne, University of Sydney Business School. One of its many lowlights is the 2016 Vote Compass data that shows the majority of men are opposed to using quotas to increase numbers of women in Parliament.

  • 22% men agree, 56% disagree.
  • 49% women agree, 29% women disagree.

How disappointing. I thought Australian men had more faith in great Australian females.

Another lowlight is Australia’s ranking in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s World Classification of Women in National Parliaments.

  • As of 2nd July 2016, Australia ranks 49 of 193 countries.
  • The top five rankings are Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Iceland and Nicaragua.
  • Rwanda is also the first parliament in the world where women hold the majority, primarily because in this post-genocide country, women make up 70% of the surviving population.

Additional facts and figures regarding Australia’s place on the international inequity stage is provided by the World Economic Forum’s 391-page, 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.

  • Of 144 countries listed on the Global Index, Australia ranks 46.
  • Top five countries: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Rwanda.

The report also draws attention to Australia’s ‘continued existence of a gender gap in income’ and the continual decline of Australia’s ranking for women in national government. But the good news is that female representation meets the 30% ‘critical mass,’ which the United Nations regards as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making in parliament.

No excuse then, I muse. Perhaps the driving force behind female inaction is plain, old, boring subservience.

Historical Pioneers

Diving into the history of pay inequity, I learn that prior to 1969, legislation decreed that women be paid a minimum rate 25% less than male employees doing the same or similar work. (Really makes you wonder what kind of men were running the joint back in the day – and now, for that matter.) Determined to banish the looming doom that threatened to dampen my determined spirit, at the eleventh hour I discovered that some of our female political pioneers did indeed make serious noise about pay equity (and women’s toilets):

Vida Goldstein1903, 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1917:  first woman in Australia (and the British Empire) to stand for election to a national parliament (five unsuccessful times). Campaigned for various social reforms including equal pay for equal work.

Edith Cowan1921:  first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament (WA Legislative Assembly). Leading suffragette, pioneer of women’s and children’s rights. Instigated the enacted Women’s Legal Status Act which enabled women to practice law.

Enid Lyons1943:  first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Believed that men and women should be completely equal.

Dorothy Tangney 1943:  first woman elected to the Senate. Championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women.

Ellen Violet Jordan1966: Advocated equal pay for women during a Queensland parliamentary ‘grievance session.’ Managed to get a women’s toilet in the House.

Lo and behold, the principle of equal pay for equal work was introduced in 1969.  How disappointing that almost 50 years later, equal pay for equal work is still a mere principle.

Talk Is Cheap

While the majority of female politicians past and present disagree with pay inequity  nobody is making a definitive stand. Where are our courageous, proactive, female leaders? What’s stopping them from following boldly in the steps of our courageous Icelandic sisters to relegate this dogged issue to the ‘Done Basket’ once and for all?

Best practice policies are pristine in theory but clearly fail to stop gender based pay discrimination across the board. They must be replaced with bulletproof laws.

In the meantime, if you currently suffer from pay inequity, there is no shortage of government agencies to turn to for assistance:

  • Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency
  • Workplace Gender Equality Agency
  • Fair Work Ombudsman
  • Minister for Women
  • 73 other female, federal parliamentary representatives

And may you draw further strength and support as I have, from the closing paragraph of the Global Index Report’s Preface:

“It is our hope that this latest edition of the Report will serve as a call to action to governments to accelerate gender equality through bolder policymaking, to businesses to prioritize gender equality as a critical talent and moral imperative and to all of us to become deeply conscious of the choices we make every day that impact gender equality globally. We call upon every reader of this Report to join these efforts.”


justiceThe primary reason why Australian women are paid less than men? According to a 2009 report by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling:

‘… simply being a woman is the major contributing factor to the gap in Australia, accounting for 60 per cent of the difference between women’s and men’s earnings, a finding which reflects other Australian research in this area.’

Political oblivion lets self-serving politicians get away with it – whatever the ‘it’ may be. Wake up and be heard. Let’s make pay inequity history and demand that the 2019 fifty-year anniversary be celebrated with legislation to mandate equal pay for men and women.

Linda Summer – Scribe @ Lost For Words


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