The Australian Government has already taken important and significant steps to improve pay equity for women, including:
- Changes to the Fair Work Act to include the right to equal pay for work of equal or comparable value. This is a more generous test allowing comparisons between comparable categories of work where the female-dominated category may have been historically under-valued.
- A new right for parents to request flexible working arrangements, such as changes in hours of work, changes to the pattern of work or changes in the location of work will help parents with the juggle between work and family. And new parents also have a new option to request to extend parental leave by a further 12 months;
- A special bargaining stream for the low paid that will benefit many women in low paid sectors, such as cleaning, childcare and the community sector.
- New protections from discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of pregnancy, sex and now for the first time, caring responsibilities
- a process to progress a pay equity test case under the new provisions in the Fair Work Act for the social and community services sector. This case was lodged by the ASU on 11 March 2010.
The most important step is the historic introduction of Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme.
The Government will soon introduce legislation so that from 1 January 2011, eligible employees will receive up to 18 weeks of taxable payments paid at the level of the National Minimum Wage.
The Paid Parental Leave scheme will support stronger families and give children the best start in life. It will foster increased workforce participation by helping women maintain their careers.
The government is also considering these issues further through its review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 which will be announced later this year.
The work of the Equal Pay Alliance, with strong support from the ACTU, is very welcome. Action from all sectors of the community, including business, unions and government, is needed to improve pay equity.