Gender sets salaries

Anna Uren
Women's Coordinator
Sally Thompson
Federal AEU Women's Officer

On September 8 we marked Equal Pay Day — calculated to be the point to which the average woman must work this year to earn the same money an average man earns over the financial year ending in June.

Each year, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) plots a chart of men’s and women’s wages to find how far behind women are in the gender equity pay gap, and this year it finds the average full-time employed woman in Australia earns 16.2 per cent less than the average full-time employed man and needs to put in more than two months’ extra work to earn as much as a man does in a year.

Of course, we don’t all live our lives as averages. In industries where women have to negotiate their own pay rises, the pay gap is much worse, and in management roles it stretches out to a whopping 27 per cent difference between women and men.

Teachers in NSW don’t individually negotiate their own wages. Instead, we collectively fight for wage increases as part of the Award process — a new round of which is about to begin. You’d hope that this might mean there is no gender pay gap in our membership. Sadly, according to WGEA, there is still a 9 per cent gender pay gap in education.

In teaching, it’s not so much that women are paid less for the same job as men but that women aren’t getting as many opportunities to get into the better paid and more secure jobs. Attitudes such as, “you can’t have a year adviser working part time” or, “those people whose cars are still in the car park at 6pm are the most hardworking” can combine to have the impact of keeping women out of promotion or other opportunities.

The gender breakdown of primary principals provides a stark picture. While 81.2 per cent of principals of the smallest class of primary schools are women (just 0.5 per cent less than the proportion of women in the whole primary teaching service), only 43.6 per cent of the principals of the largest primary schools (and therefore the highest paid) are women.

Women still largely carry the responsibility of caring for children and the elderly in our community, which can affect pay as well as opportunities. In public education in NSW, important steps have been taken in the past to overcome this.

At Women’s Conference in 1980, the then Education Minister, Paul Landa, announced recognition of full-time childrearing for determining salaries and service credits for unpaid maternity leave. This has gone a long way to reducing the gender pay gap for Federation members.

The Department is now trying to undo these provisions, which have been in place for more than 35 years. In negotiations, the Department has agreed to back down on removing service credits for maternity leave but is persisting with no longer recognising childrearing for determining a teacher’s salary. This is a backwards step that members must stand together to fight.

The ACTU is marking Equal Pay Day by calling on all members of parliament to implement the following measures:

  • close the gender pay gap
  • end discrimination against women
  • provide support for working mothers and carers
  • remove structural inequalities in the superannuation system
  • improve the aged pension
  • address the crisis in housing affordability
  • apply a gender lens to changes to the retirement income system.

Regrettably, this call is still necessary in 2016 given the stubbornly high gender pay gap, men’s average superannuation balances being twice the size of women’s, and women (older women in particular) still being at greater risk of experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Federation and the Australian Education Union are committed to a just society. We have fought and won conditions that chip away at the root causes of the gender pay gap. Members interested in providing input into the updated AEU Gender Equity Strategy being developed are invited to contact the Women's Coordinator. The gender pay gap in education is lower than the average but it’s still too big. Federation won’t rest until it's non-existent.