27 September 2023

Mind the gap: Why men are still earning more than women in Australia

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Jarni Blakkarly* says Australia’s gender pay gap has fallen by 1.1 per cent, but men are still earning more than women, and in some industries the gap is widening.

Australia’s pay gap between men and women has reduced by 1.1 per cent in the past year to 21.3 per cent, the largest single-year drop since recording began five years ago.

But a report released last week by the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows the gains for women in the workplace are not uniform across industries, with the pay gap going backwards in four sectors of the economy.

Overall, on average, men still take home $25,717 a year more than women.

“Our data shows that change is happening in Australian workplaces,” said Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

“In some areas, it is happening quickly.”

“In others, it is far too slow.”

“Pay gaps persist in every industry, occupation and manager category.”

Ms Lyons, who delivered an address to the National Press Club about the report last week, said some of the reduction in the pay gap may be attributed to a rise in the number of organisations analysing their gender data and putting policies in place.

The number of organisations which had conducted a gender pay gap analysis has risen from 24 per cent in 2013–14 to 41.6 per cent in 2017–18.

There was also a 22 per cent jump in the number of organisations with pay equity objectives in their remuneration policies.

Problem industries

But while some progress is being made, the pay gap went backwards over the past year in industries including construction, health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and “other services”.

The report classifies “other services” as including “private households employing staff, undifferentiated goods and services, and service-producing activities of households for own use”.

Secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, Josh Cullinan told SBS News he wasn’t surprised the gender pay gap was going backwards in the food services industry, which he says predominantly employs young women.

“Unfortunately, we have the double whammy in fast food of insecure work and poorly paid work, meaning these women find it extra difficult,” he said.

But United Voice’s Assistant National Secretary, Helen Gibbons said the union, which represents childcare workers and cleaners amongst many other professions, saw major flaws in the report.

She said the report was for “the top end of town” and said it was an oversight to focus on pay gaps within industries, instead of comparing male versus female dominant professions, such as child care.

“There are so many people missing from this report, this is just a tiny snapshot of the problem,” she said.

“Those whole industries, work that was historically seen as women’s work, that is just massively undervalued.”

Fairfax Media reported in September that the Australian Labor Party was planning to introduce laws forcing companies with more than 1,000 employees to publicly reveal their gender pay gaps on a searchable database.

A similar scheme already exists in the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister, Scott Morrison at the time ruled out such a scheme, saying it risked “setting up conflict in the workplace”.

SBS News has approached the Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer for comment.

* Jarni Blakkarly is an investigative journalist at SBS News. He tweets at @JarniBlakkarly and his website is jarniblakkarly.com.

This article first appeared at www.sbs.com.au.

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