Howard's IR will widen gender gap: Democrats

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Howard's IR will widen gender gap: Democrats

Women’s wages and conditions are in the spotlight, as the government fights off continued criticism of its proposed IR changes.

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Women’s wages and conditions are in the spotlight, as the government fights off continued criticism of its proposed IR changes.

An expanded gender wages gap will be the fallout from the Howard Government’s IR changes, according to Democrats leader Lyn Allison.

She claims the Government's intention to remove the Australian Workplace Agreements no disadvantage test and to introduce reduced minimum standards will cause the widening.

'These AWAs are more likely to be implemented in areas dominated by women where there are low levels of collective bargaining and union representation,' she said.

The latest ABS Social trends data shows that women earn 68% of men’s average weekly total earnings and 92% of men’s average hourly ordinary time earnings.

The real reason

Allison dismissed claims that the pay gap exists because men work more hours than women, as a comparison of the average hourly rate shows that women are still worse off than men.

‘The real reason this pay gap exists is because women are over-represented in lower paid industries, lower paid occupations and in casual and part-time work.

‘It's also because there are inadequate supports to assist women balance work and family, such as affordable and accessible childcare; Government-funded paid maternity leave; and the right to part-time work,' Allison said.

Precarious pressure

NSW LHMU secretary Annie Owens raised concerns about the Government’s IR plans and the future of women in the workforce at a recent Evatt Foundation seminar.

‘Women move in and out of work a lot more than men so will come under more pressure to sign individual employment contracts.

’These contracts are secretive documents denying a whole lot of our existing basic workplace rights - including annual leave, unpaid parental leave and personal leave as well as the weekly hours and wage rates,' Owens said.

She says it will be easier to dismiss women, as they are more likely to be employed in the more precarious casual and part-time work than men.

The wrong path

Senior Researcher, Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training Justine Evesson, also presenting at the Evatt seminar, put a finer point on it, citing OECD figures which showed 18% of women and 12% of men made up the low paid sector.

She argued that women’s over representation in the low paid job sector could only get worse under the Government’s proposals - it could go down the UK and US paths, where 31% of UK women and 13% of UK men and 33% of US women and 20% of US men make up the low paid sector.

Employer objections

However, Australian Business Limited chief executive Mark Bethwaite rejected claims that it will be easier to sack women.

‘Employers resent the claims made by the trade union movement that mums with sick kids or pregnant women will be sacked. It's not true.

’To sack someone on the basis of family circumstances or pregnancy has always been unlawful and it will still be unlawful. Nothing will change.

'Nor will it be legal to dismiss someone on the basis of family circumstances, religion, racial background or sexuality. Australia has one of the most welcoming and accepting workplaces in the world and it will not change,' Bethwaite said.

Any dismissals that occur would be performance-related, he added.

He described the Government’s proposals as a '"win, win, win" culture, where the benefits of reform are shared by employers, employees and Australia’.

For a copy of the ABS Social Trends data go to ABS website.

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