International Women’s Day 2012

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International Women’s Day 2012

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day, and a range of organisations have taken the opportunity to press their views on what should change in relation to women and work.

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Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day and a range of organisations have taken the opportunity to press their views on what should change in relation to women and work.

A sample of views from media releases is noted here.

ACTU highlights insecure work

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) commented that insecure work is the hidden driver of the gender pay gap.

Better pay, paid parental leave and equal opportunity laws are important advancements but cannot alone reverse the deep-rooted inequity that women continue to face at work, say unions.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said International Women’s Day was an important time to consider the challenges Australian women still faced at work, despite recent improvements.

She said the fundamental root of ongoing gender inequality was that too many women were trapped in insecure work.

‘The gap between a man and woman’s income is still too high, at 17.6%, and is a very real beast preying on women’s lives. The gap continues to exist for many reasons — a lack of value of what is seen as women’s work, the fact men are more likely to ask for a pay rise and the reality that women often work less hours than men once they have children, to name just a few.

Importantly, a hidden driver of the pay gap is the lack of options for women to balance their work and family commitments — forcing them into low paid, low skilled and often insecure work. The thousands of employers who perpetuate the problem by hiring under insecure terms know it — and they don’t want anything done about it.’

Ms Kearney said employers wrongly claimed women liked this type of work because it meant they could work casual hours and balance the job with family responsibilities. But she said the reality was women in insecure work did not have sick pay, annual leave and job security and often only learned of roster changes a week or days ahead of time.

Ms Kearney said she hoped this year’s major win by unions for equal pay in the community and social services sector would help address the problem, just like paid parental leave last year was a major step forward.

‘And the recent moves by the Government to introduce the new Workplace Gender Equality Act will mean minimum standards and performance benchmarks will be developed in consultation with industry, unions and experts,’ she said.

Australian Women in Resources Alliance — gender diversity in resources
 
The Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) has stated that International Women’s Day marks a movement to increase gender diversity in resources.

The AWRA is ramping up its efforts to increase women’s participation in one of Australia’s most dynamic and evolving industries and provide employers with a key competitive advantage — strength through workforce diversity.

‘IWD marks the perfect opportunity to launch the AWRA “Way Forward” paper, which will raise awareness about the significant benefits to be derived from making our workforce more gender diverse,’ says Minna Knight, AWRA spokesperson and director of the Australian Mines and Metal Association (AMMA).

‘We acknowledge there are certainly barriers to be overcome but the potential economic and productivity returns are significant. The Way Forward paper makes a powerful case for gender diversity to become a key strategic business goal.’
 
‘This paper is a call to action and outlines how we can facilitate the appropriate cultural change, promote best practice workplace policies and strengthen and unite the various women’s networks and employers across Australia towards the goal of attracting and retaining more women in our workforce.’

Lawyer on gender equality
 
A partner at Gadens Lawyers has welcomed legislation designed to overhaul the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).

Stephanie Nicol, employment and safety partner at Gadens in Sydney, said the Cwlth Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012, tabled in the House of Representatives on 1 March 2011, comes at a time when businesses are starting to take gender equality seriously.

‘In the past year we have seen diversity become a talking point in boardrooms and businesses nationally. It is therefore timely that the legislation giving effect to the changes to EOWA has been introduced to Parliament in the lead up to International Women’s Day,’ Nicol said.

Currently, organisations with 100 or more employees are required to make themselves known to EOWA and, unless exempt, to submit annual reports. However, the effectiveness of this regime has historically been hamstrung by EOWA’s limited enforcement and compliance powers. It is estimated that up to a third of organisations who are required to report to EOWA have failed to identify themselves to EOWA.

‘The Bill strengthens the compliance and enforcement powers of the agency, as well as introducing new sanctions,’ says Nicol.
 
‘I would certainly encourage large organisations to audit their compliance with the legislation. As well as being named and shamed publicly, for example, in Parliament or newspapers, non-compliant organisations may face financial consequences by being ineligible to trade with Government or to receive grants or financial assistance.’

The Bill changes the reporting obligations of organisations considerably. If the Bill is passed as is, reporting organisations will need to report on gender equality indicators such as the gender composition of the workforce and board; equal remuneration between women and men; the availability and utility of flexible working arrangements; and consultation with employees on gender equality issues. Nicol describes the Bill as raising gender equality to executive level with a new requirement that CEOs must sign off on the accuracy of reports.

While the Bill does not affect the 2011–12 reporting year, which draws to a close on 31 March 2012, if it is passed, it will have ramifications for the reporting year commencing on 1 April 2012.
 
‘It is imperative that organisations are aware of their obligations,’ says Nicol.
 
‘At Gadens, we encourage organisations to take a proactive, best practice approach to gender equality and diversity.’
 
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