Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Workplace Relations

7:34 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I rise in Anti-Poverty Week to talk about women's wages in this country and about the gap between men's and women's wages under the Abbott-Turnbull government that is growing and growing at alarming rates. It seems the Abbott government did not do anything about it and it appears that the new Minister for Employment and, indeed, the Minister for Women, Senator Cash, is not doing anything about it either.

The wages gap sits at 17.1 per cent nationally. The gap between men's and women's wages nationally is almost 20 per cent. But wait, in Western Australia, my home state and, interestingly, the home state of the Minister for Employment and the Minister for Women, it is a whopping 26.1 per cent. What has this government done about that? You do not even hear it being mentioned. But what those opposite are doing is continuing their attack on workers, on low-income earners and on those who rely on a benefit from the government, and those people are predominantly women. We know that in our community it is women who predominantly work across the service sector. Whether it is hospitality, whether it is retail, whether it is aged care, whether it is cleaning or whether it is disability services, they are the sectors where women are clustered. In Western Australia there is a 26.1 per cent gap in the wages between men and women.

Yesterday we had another Western Australian senator kind of imply that Vinnies were really interested in jobs, any jobs. I think Senator Back, whilst he did not wrongly quote Dr John Falzon, certainly made an implication that Dr Falzon would think jobs were above all else. I want to put on the record a quote from Dr Falzon around penalty rates. Dr Falzon, on behalf of Vinnies—he is the CEO—said:

Penalty rates are an essential means of building fairness in our economy, keeping many of Australia's lowest paid workers from falling into deeper poverty, and should not be tampered with.

He went on to say:

It is vital that Australia's penalty rates system be maintained as an essential buffer against poverty, relied on by people who are battling to make ends meet.

Those who rely on penalty rates to meet their household expenditure are far more likely to be single parents, women in receipt of a household income less that $30,000 and living on the edges of our cities or in regional Australia.

You do not fix unemployment by penalising people in low-paid and insecure work.

That was what Dr Falzon said.

Indeed, at Labor's fair work task force, where we heard from low-paid workers last week, the Western Australian branch of St Vincent de Paul appeared before us and they also talked about how necessary penalty rates are, particularly across the service sector, and how they made up a significant portion of people's incomes.

Today, again in Western Australia, we see that single-parent families, mostly headed by women, are really suffering in the private rental market—and, if they remain in the private rental market, they will end up living below the poverty line. Indeed, after my penalty rate speech yesterday I got an email from a woman who told me what a struggle she was having as a single parent bringing up a son while trying to manage work and rent.

Yet, with the national gap for women's wages at 17.1 per cent—and, alarmingly, at 26.1 per cent in Western Australia—we hear nothing from the Turnbull government. Some of that climb in the gap in wages in Western Australia directly relates to the Court Liberal government's harsh industrial relations laws, where they allowed employers for the first time in Western Australia to go below the award rates and to abolish penalty rates. That is exactly what employers did. It did not increase the unemployment rate. What it did do, though, was increase the gap between women's wages and men's wages. It is time the government came to grips with this and put a plan in place to address this absolutely disgraceful gap between men's wages and women's wages. Thank you.