Don't rely on equal pay principles: Tas Commissioner

News

Don't rely on equal pay principles: Tas Commissioner

Industrial practitioners have been relying for too long on the winning of pay equity principles at the expense of any real difference to women’s pay packets, or their careers, according to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

 

Industrial practitioners have been relying for too long on the winning of pay equity principles at the expense of any real difference to women’s pay packets, or their careers, according to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

And the reason is the basic structure of society, which values women’s work less than men’s, has so ingrained itself that even industrial tribunals and women themselves are scarcely aware of its impact on the way they go about their business.

Dr Jocelynne Scutt delivered a paper, ‘Getting to first base when you’ve struck a home run’, last week in Melbourne as part of the annual memorial lecture series commemorating the work of equal pay academic and campaigner Clare Burton.

She said that ‘over and over, time and again’ women had fought and won small measures in the setting of pay rates. But ‘then come the backwards steps, or subversion by dominant notions of work value and women’s worth'.

Too often, when we make real gains, there is an implication that the winning of the principle is enough, without the practice that goes along with it, as if words are sufficient for women, not the making of the words meaningful.

Despite talk of women breaking through ‘glass ceilings’, Scutt said women in higher positions were strategic placements, ‘only as high as necessary. . . to give an illusion of fairness or even-handedness, but not to rock the boat’.

And she warned there were still plenty of women on the ‘bottom rung’, trapped ‘beneath the concrete canopy without a window in sight, far less a sky through a glass ceiling, however darkly’.

The pattern of women winning a benefit or standard known to men, and that benefit promptly losing its value, ‘negating the win to nothingness’, was all too familiar, Scutt said.

Commenting on recent equal pay decisions coming from the Industrial Relations Commissions in NSW and Tasmania, Scutt said the resulting principles gave women ‘a new avenue for claiming equal pay in practice’.

But she said pay rates were not the only marker of equity, and women’s career progressions were being stymied in ‘more subtle but... also more brutal’ ways.

Bullying and sexual harassment acted to prevent women getting to first base, where they could access the benefits, power, prestige and status of men in the highest-level jobs, she said.

‘At the lowest level, women are expected to perform like a man and, when they do, are subjected to vilification and pressure to conform to a different norm.’

Scutt said despite women gaining high-level positions within unions and on industrial tribunals, there was continual difficulty ‘in evaluating the work of workers who cannot emulate the norm – for the norm remains determined along sex/gender lines and is not female, but male’.

She said notions like ‘skills’, ‘merit’, ‘credentials’, ‘excellence’, ‘capacity’ and ‘best practice’ are all weighted with a significant subjective content. This means the ‘norm’ in particular areas, like the judiciary, do not realise that their characteristics – largely white, older male and middle class - mean they are from a restricted, not representative, group.

‘These so-called stereotypes – which are in reality facts’, were applicable to the vast majority of major Australian institutions, she said.

In order to move on, women need to concentrate not on smashing the glass ceiling, but on redirecting their efforts to the factory floor, Scutt said. Here, where the vast majority of women are, ‘it’s the concrete canopy that dictates position, wages, power – and the power to speak out against discrimination, harassment and conduct uncalled for’.

Scutt said it is no advantage for the odd few to make it through – instead, a commitment to re-engage with all women is needed, ‘so that there are so many of us alongside her, that she can be deemed to be peculiar or odd no more’.

The Clare Burton lecture is being held at venues around the country over the next few weeks. Check the ATN-WEXDEV website for further details:

 

http://www.uts.edu.au/oth/wexdev/highlights/clare2000.html

Post details