The Federal Government has announced that it will no longer support the Australian Services Union’s test case to get equal pay for women. The excuse for this backdown is that funding the decision would impact the Federal Budget bottom line:
THE federal government has put the budget surplus ahead of equal pay for women, telling Fair Work Australia it cannot fund increased wages that may result from a historic test case without cutting other government services.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last year pledged support to the first test of equal pay rights under the Fair Work Act – a legal case to lift the wages of 153,000 workers, nearly all women, in community services – signing a deal with the Australian Services Union.
But support for the case comes at a cost. Community services are largely funded by federal and state governments, and a win would see payroll costs soar by 14 to 50 per cent. The Australian Council of Social Services said not-for-profits cannot meet a pay rise without more government funding.
The equal pay case revolves around raising the pay standards for many underpaid community work jobs, including disability, domestic violence, aged care, homelessness and other services. These jobs have historically been underpaid compared to equivalent jobs in other public sector areas, or compared to the private sector – and historically the jobs have been mostly performed by women.
Many of these community services are only provided through government funding to organisations like UnitingCare. There is a vicious cycle at work – these organisations have massive turnover rates of staff, due to stress and low pay, struggle to provide adequate services and often cannot afford to pay decent wage increases (which exacerbates the other problems).
Labor is committed to ending the gender pay gap – which is why it is so disappointing to see the backdown by the Federal Government, who seem intent on sacrificing wage justice on the altar of the neo-liberal, budget-surplus cult.
After hearing Linda White (@lindawhiteasu) from the ASU talking about it on the radio, I jumped on the phone to let Federal Labor MPs know that I did not support this decision.
“In its submission, the Federal Government has restated its commitment to pay equity in Australia and endorsed the role of Fair Work Australia in redressing under-valuation of women’s work,” Ms Kearney said.
“There are 153,000 workers in this sector, mostly women, and the Government has acknowledged that they should be paid the same as other workers performing work of equal or comparable value.
“Although the Commonwealth notes that any ‘significant’ wage increases will involve additional funding, the remedy the unions are seeking is not only fair but modest and affordable.
“Ultimately, this case should not be about the capacity to pay and no-one ever pretended it wasn’t going to cost money. The case is about equity and a gender pay gap that can no longer be tolerated.
“The Gillard Government must make decisions when it comes to balancing the Budget – but it also has an opportunity to be remembered as a great reforming government in the Labor tradition that overcame the historical gap between men and women’s pay.”