I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by Ms Pulford this morning. It is a timely reminder of an industrial matter that has been part of a community campaign for many years. It is a campaign for equity, and it is a campaign for justice.
Equal pay has been talked about for many generations, but what do we mean by equal pay, and why do we not have it? Before this question can be answered it is important to understand what we mean by unequal pay and how it can be measured. It can be measured, firstly, by the direct comparison between male and female employees doing the same work but earning different wages and receiving different overtime rates and different access to overtime, rosters, bonuses and a whole range of other entitlements. It is also measured via the differences in pay between occupations and industry sectors which place greater value on certain types of work.
As the Equal Pay Alliance states, this difference in value is partly historical and emanates:
“… from a time when women were not regarded as ‘breadwinners’ nor welcome in most parts of the workforce.
“‘Women’s work’ was, and still is, a term used to downplay the value of women’s skills.”
All these elements contribute to the wage gap we continue to have today. The wage gap is stuck at 18 per cent in 2011 — that is right; in this day and age we still have an 18 per cent wage inequity between men and women in the workforce.
Ms Pulford’s motion draws our attention to the Australian Services Union’s equal pay test case and the role and behaviour of the Victorian government. I am certainly not one for providing advice to this coalition state government, but with an industrial background of more than 25 years what I can say is that when it comes to women making the decision to rectify an injustice and doing so on a collective basis the resolve women have can never be underestimated. To see this one need only look at the recent Baiada dispute. Once banded together, and regardless of age and social or cultural background, women are a formidable force.
The state government does not seem to know this. The ordinary voter out there watching the news or reading the newspaper might be forgiven for believing this government has deliberately attempted to take on women workers in this state in recent times.
I say this because we currently have, as members know, the Australian Nursing Federation nurses dispute, the vast majority of those workers being women; we currently have the State Public Services Federation dispute, and again the vast majority of that membership is women; and we also have the teachers enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations taking place, where the government has walked away from its election commitment to make Victorian teachers the highest paid in the country, and again that profession is one where the majority are — yes, you guessed it — women. On the other hand we have seen an arrangement struck with the Police Association. For the record I state that I congratulate the Police Association on the agreement, and I certainly do not begrudge it its package.
What we have now is a government that is not prepared to put the wage increases and other conditions that it can afford to give to the police force on the table for other sectors, and of course those sectors — you have guessed it — are where there are a majority of women workers.
The state government’s position on equal pay has been a sad and sorry story. Not only has its election commitment been broken, it has also put a cap on the costs associated with equal pay, and this will most definitely lead to cuts in services and cuts in the number of jobs. It will result in fewer jobs for the women in the sector, and I just ask: is that what the government really wants?
But what I think is equally scandalous is the coalition’s submission to Fair Work Australia on 29 July, which in some ways dismissed the role of gender and the way it is played out in the social and community services sector. I would assert that it also attempted to dilute and marginalise gender in the equal pay debate, and that is what galls me and absolutely affronts me. I submit that the submission turned the clock back beyond the original concept of equal pay and back beyond the campaign largely run by women in their fight for equal pay. In some ways I believe it created a whole new definition of ‘back to the future’, and it certainly lacked any understanding of systemic discrimination.
I suspect there are women on the other side of the chamber who are privately wringing their hands, because I know that for many years there have been women on both sides of the chamber who have fought side by side on the issue of equal pay — even as early as 1912, when women’s minimum wage was first set at 54 per cent of men’s wages. I think there would be some private mutterings amongst a number of women on the other side, because they know that they now have to argue gender and equal pay all over again within their own party. It is a sad day indeed when the work of so many is disregarded, and it is particularly so when significant parts of the equal pay campaign over the years have been bipartisan. That historical bipartisanship was thrown out of the door as soon as this coalition government was elected in November last year. It has walked away from the money; it has walked away from fixing equal pay; and it has walked away from women workers, particularly low-paid women workers.
The question is: what can be done?
Essentially the state government needs to fulfil the election commitments it made to Victorian workers, it needs to value and increase the pay for what is historically known as women’s work, it needs to uncap or remove the caveat of the $50 million per annum for equal pay, and it needs to pay whatever is required to rectify unequal pay. Once that is done, the government needs to seriously rethink how it can provide a real and sustainable way to support Victorian workers, particularly those who are low paid and who are in gender-dominated workplaces. Trust has been broken in a serious way, and that trust cannot be easily rebuilt. But there is a way forward. The parties are back before Fair Work Australia next Monday, which will be an opportunity for the coalition to rectify its position. The situation has gone beyond the government playing hardball; this is a question about justice and about being fair. The government must stop trying to dilute or marginalise gender and using the historical context of women’s work as a basis for unequal pay.
The state government needs to follow the lead of the federal Labor government and do the right thing. It needs to stop talking about pedestals, it needs to stop the platitudes and it needs to stump up the real cash for justice and for fairness to prevail.
I commend the motion that Ms Pulford has put before the house this morning, and in doing so I also commend the members of the Australian Services Union on the shop floor, its organisers and other officials, other workers, other unions and other people in the community for keeping up the good fight to secure gender pay equity for this generation and for generations to come.