Women lose out in new work regime

Sydney Morning Herald
7 April, 2007
By Matt Wade
Economics Writer

THE pay gap between men and women is widening and the Fair Pay Commission has a responsibility to help reverse the trend, an academic report says.

There is evidence that women have lost out from deregulation of the labour market, including the Work Choices changes, the Women in Social and Economic Research group at Curtin Business School says.

"The gender pay gap in the private-sector full-time labour market is widening, as is the gap between those on awards and those in the bargaining stream," the report says.

"The potential exists for gender inequities to grow."

The findings are included in a submission to the Fair Pay Commission, which has begun its 2007 minimum wage review.

The average gap between full-time men and women in the private sector has grown from 17.8 per cent to 19.4 per cent since May 2005, the report says. Including the public sector, the gap is 16 per cent, or $9218 a year.

Alison Preston, the co-director of the research group, said women were losing ground.

"The fears that women would be worse off under Australian workplace agreements are starting to show through in the data," she said.

Other economists have argued that rapid wages growth in the male-dominated mining industry has contributed to the recent widening in the pay gap.

In the past, low-paid women benefited from the centralised wages system.

A large proportion of women hold relatively low-paid, part-time jobs on award rates, the group's submission says.

"Relative to full-timers, part-timers and casuals are much more likely to be dependent on institutions [such as the Fair Pay Commission] for movements in their wages," it says. The commission has a responsibility to deliver "a fair and equitable wage structure" and to ensure low-paid women did not fall further behind.

A submission to last year's minimum wage review by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry rejected pay equity considerations as a basis for setting minimum wages.

Professor Preston said that position would inevitably disadvantage women.

"Women are more likely to be affected by the decisions of the Australian Fair Pay Commission; it is therefore fair that the review takes into consideration the gender pay gap," she said.

Her group's submission is also critical of findings by the Government's Office of the Employment Advocate that show favourable outcomes for women covered by Australian workplace agreements.

Analysis by Women in Social and Economic Research found that between 2002 and 2004 the gender pay gap among non-managerial employees on workplace agreements widened, particularly among lower-skilled classifications such as clerks, sales and service workers.

The submission says the Office the Employment Advocate's reporting methods artificially inflate average pay for non-managerial workers on workplace agreements.

The 2007 minimum wage review closed last month and a decision is expected by the middle of the year.

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