SPEECH: Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap)

  • Speech

Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023 Second Reading

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Ms CLAYDON (NewcastleDeputy Speaker) (19:12): It is a great delight to rise in this place this evening to speak on the Labor government's Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023. While Australia's gender pay gap is trending in the right direction, we know we have a long way to go. In fact, on current trends, it will take around 26 years for the gender pay gap between men and women to close. That will take us through to 2049.

So where are we at? The national gender pay gap is currently at 13.3 per cent. Women earn on average 87c for every $1 earned by a man. If we look at men and women's average weekly full-time earnings across all industries and occupations, women earn $253.50 less each week than men. Women on average have 23.4 per cent less super when they come to retirement age than men. We are overrepresented in the industries with lower wages and underrepresented in positions of leadership. Although women make up half of Australia's workforce, we represent less than a quarter of all chief executive officers. About one-fifth of all boards and governing bodies have no female directors—that's zero. Women hold just 18 per cent of chair positions and 34 per cent of board member positions. We know that at the beginning of women's careers the gender pay gap is very modest, but by the time a woman retires it's the largest. This largely comes down to those middle earning years in your mid-30s, when women are having children, and they're coming in and out of the workforce.

Of course, gender discrimination in the workplace doesn't impact just women; it's a constraint upon the whole Australian economy. The gender pay gap alone represents a cost of $51.8 billion each year. Australia now ranks 43rd in the world for gender equality. I think we can all agree in this House that, as an advanced nation, that is not good enough. I am proud to be part of a woman-majority Labor government that is committed to ending this disparity—a government where gender is not just some add-on but central to our thinking, a government that understands the critical importance of women's work to the economy, women's work in the care sector, women's work in the non-traditional industries and women's workforce participation everywhere.

The Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023—the bill before the House right now—is part of the solution. It responds to a 2021 review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. That review made recommendations to help Australia accelerate progress towards workplace gender equality, as well as making reporting easier for employers. It also fulfils a key election commitment by our Labor government: to close the gender pay gap at work, to boost work pay transparency and to encourage action within organisations to close gender pay gaps. This bill will be a key driver for employer action, for transparency and for accountability.

The current approach of publishing aggregate industry gender pay gaps is not creating the transparency, accountability or insights that we now need. For the first time, this bill requires employers with more than 100 staff to report their gender pay gap to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Our changes will ensure that employers themselves are part of the solution, not the problem, by putting employers on notice that they need to take action. It is just one part of our commitment to make sure that women are respected and valued at work and that they have the security they need to thrive.

Our efforts to drive a better deal for Australian women don't stop there. In the first 10 months of government, the Albanese Labor government has supported a pay increase for aged-care and low-paid workers, who are overwhelmingly women. We've legislated to make child care cheaper and have been at pains to point out the economic and productivity advantages that come with making child care cheaper in Australia. We've increased paid parental leave to 26 weeks. We've finalised the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, supported by a record investment in the budget of $1.7 billion to implement it. We've legislated 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave. We've funded and legislated to implement in full the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report. We've established a National Women's Health Advisory Council to tackle medical bias and improve health outcomes for all Australian women, and, most recently, on International Women's Day we launched a survey and discussion paper to inform the development of the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality. The Albanese Labor government is embedding a gender lens in government in everything, from how we work with the NDIS and the social security system through to IR laws and the budget more generally.

But we know that gender inequality is not experienced in the same way by everyone. For First Nations women, for women of colour, for women with disabilities, for LGBTIQA+ women, for migrant and refugee women and for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds that gap is even wider. As my colleague, Senator Jana Stewart said in the other place, the gender pay gap:

… for First Nations women when compared to non-Aboriginal men is a huge 32.7 per cent.

That is mammoth, more than double the statistics for non-Indigenous women in Australia. The gap between First Nations women and non-Aboriginal women is roughly 19.7 per cent. This data is not easy to find, and the new reporting requirements under this bill will make a significant difference in presenting a fuller picture of workplace participation and the gender pay gap.

What we do know is that employment outcomes tend to be worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who have substantially lower rates of workforce participation, at 51.5 per cent, than for Indigenous men, who are at 65 per cent, and for non-Indigenous women, for whom it is 59.2 per cent. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are half as likely as Indigenous men to be owner-managers of businesses and they are overrepresented in most of the lower weekly income brackets and underrepresented in the highest income brackets. First Nations women are also less likely than Indigenous men to receive support from their workplaces if they encounter racism.

We must do better as a nation to ensure that every woman feels safe in the workplace, regardless of income, cultural background, citizenship status or ability status. Data on women from culturally diverse groups in the workplace is also lacking and somewhat fragmented. We know that women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face particular challenges relating to the formal recognition of overseas education, of their qualifications and skills and of the need for access to childcare support. We know that this is impacting culturally and linguistically diverse women more acutely. As a result, migrant and refugee women are more likely to work in low-income, low-skill and insecure jobs, despite the often very substantial tertiary education they've received or the significant jobs they've undertaken prior to arriving in Australia. ABS data also shows that culturally and linguistically diverse women have a significantly lower rate of workforce participation compared to culturally and linguistically diverse men. Those figures are 47.3 per cent compared with 69.5 per cent.

Systemic discrimination and bias, both conscious and unconscious, can create inequalities at every stage of the employment cycle. Improving accountability and transparency through this legislation will go a long way to help shine a light on some of the discrepancies facing women in workplaces everywhere. Hiding the gender pay gap between men and women will no longer be possible, and that is a good thing. Nothing good is ever achieved by putting our heads in the sand and pretending that something isn't happening. Undervaluing women's work will no longer be acceptable. Not only will government be able to see exactly where inequalities occur but it will also be able to see where that's occurring for current and prospective employees. Employees will be able to monitor and see what's going on in their respective workplaces, and that is a good thing too. These are the additional transparency and accountability measures that this bill seeks to address.

This bill is an important first step, but there is much more that we want to do, not just broadly on workplace gender equality but also, specifically, with regard to how WGEA can help us understand and close the gender pay gap. For example, recommendation 3 of the review calls for the addition of a new gender equality standard, requiring employers with 500 or more employees to commit to and achieve specific targets, and report their progress against these targets to WGEA. This government is absolutely committed to this reform and to getting it right. This has been a long time coming. This recommendation has been around since that initial review, and this bill seeks to ensure it is implemented in a timely manner now.

The development of these gender equality targets requires close consultation with businesses and with other stakeholders, and meaningful metrics which are shown to help progress gender equality. One of the recommendations of the review was that the act should be amended to enable the mandatory collection of data that captures employees who identify as nonbinary. This has been collected on a voluntary basis since 2021. Again, this is a change the Labor government wants to make. It will bring this important piece of legislation in line with other Commonwealth standards such as those used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics when collecting data on gender. It will also enable a more fulsome picture of our workplace, one which will more acutely reflect Australian society. That's an important matter too. Our laws, like our parliament, must reflect the communities we represent and the communities we belong to. But this change needs to be done carefully, in close consultation with businesses and employees, and with representative and advocacy groups and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

During the 2022 election, women across Australia voted for change. After a decade of Liberal government inaction, defunding of services, and general disregard and disrespect for women's call for change, the need action is more pressing than ever. Together with our new national strategy to achieve gender equality, and working in concert with [email protected], secure jobs, better pay, and improvements for family and gender equality legislation passed by this government, this bill will bring us closer to achieving our goal of being one of the best countries in the world for equality between men and women.


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