Thursday, 23 March 2023
Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023; Second Reading
Marielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I just have a few remarks remaining in my contribution on the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023. As I said, I want to keep it brief. It is a privilege to be speaking on a bill called 'closing the gender pay gap'. We know the work that has been done to date hasn't been happening fast enough.
The bill before us presents a much tougher requirement in terms of reporting and in terms of the information businesses will be required to provide to WGEA. The impact of this will be uncomfortable for some businesses. We know it will be uncomfortable for some businesses, but it's these uncomfortable truths which will make a difference to closing the pay gap. In other jurisdictions, we have seen what happens when you put that additional layer and burden of proof on businesses to come to the table with a problem—when even well-meaning businesses have to come to the table and explain their gender pay gap. That transparency will drive action, and that's what this bill really is about. It's about the concrete steps that we take. Yes, they will be uncomfortable for some, but that discomfort is our opportunity to drive change.
We know that the gender pay gap has been too stubbornly persistent for too long: we know that women are retiring with a massive gap in their superannuation earnings and we know that, when they're ending their careers, their superannuation balances are far lower than those of their male counterparts. There are ways to change this through superannuation, there are ways to change this through participation and there are ways to change this through support for education, training and time out of the workplace, but this is going to be a really significant reform as well. Data matters, how we collect data matters and how we require companies to come to the table with data matters. Despite that discomfort, I hope business comes to this with enthusiasm and support, because we know that if they do—if they come to this with the same degree of enthusiasm and the same intentions and goodwill that everyone in this chamber is supporting this legislation with—we will see some really, really great results. We know that we will see a change and an impact on the gender pay gap.
I really hope that when the two-year-old climbing up my back enters the workplace one day—unlike Senator Waters and me, who have been campaigning on this issue for many years—she will be able to enter the workplace and know that she's paid fairly, appropriately and adequately compared to her male counterparts. That's a future we can all strive to work for. There is a lot we need to do, of course, to make women's futures more equal, but, in the workplace, this is one particular thing we can do today. I'm really pleased and enthused by the support across the chamber to make a difference to the gender pay gap, and I commend the bill to the chamber.
Helen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak on the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023. The Albanese Labor government is delivering on our election commitment to help close the gender pay gap at work. This bill will work to ensure that this occurs sooner rather than later. The bill will require the gender pay gaps of employers with 100 or more workers to be published, a key reform to drive transparency and action towards closing the gender pay gap. No longer can bosses around the country hide paying a man and a woman different wages or salaries. For too long women working full time have earnt, on average, 14.1 per cent less than men per week in their pay packet. What does that look like in dollar terms? The average weekly full-time earnings of a woman in Australia across all industries and occupations was lower than the equivalent for men by $263 per week. All Australians should be rightly shocked and outraged.
The gender pay gap is also holding our economy back, with $51.8 billion per year lost because of the lack of gender equality on pay. On current projections, it will take another 26 years to close the gender pay gap if no action is taken. Those opposite may want to continue on that path, but the women of Australia, every woman in every sector, deserves pay parity. Women have waited long enough for the pay gap to close. Let's not wait another second, hour, day, week, month or year—let alone another quarter of a century.
At its core, the bill makes employers more responsible with greater accountability towards gender equality in their workplaces and helps drive the actions required in the workplace to ensure pay parity. Advance Australia fair—they are the words that our country stands by. It is the way we live as people, and that needs to be applied to pay across the workforce, from the shopfloor to the boardroom, and even on the basketball court. Australian women and girls deserve fair and safe working conditions. They deserve equality of opportunity. They deserve equal remuneration. No more excuses—it's time.
We know that women have an average of 23.4 per cent less super when they come to retirement age than men. We know that the cohort of homeless women is growing. Ultimately, what has been happening and is still happening is wage theft, and women are the collateral damage during their working lives and at retirement age. I remember when I was working in the finance sector in Melbourne in the seventies. It seems such a long time ago. Women in that company were only invited to join the superannuation scheme after 10 years. If you were a young woman like me, and you were taking time out to have a family, you had no hope, no hope whatsoever, of being able to join that super fund. Even if you were invited, there was no guarantee. It is time to change that once and for all. We deserve pay parity, and with this bill the Labor government is working very hard to close that gap. Too many women in Australia can't afford to retire.
Women make up half of Australia's workforce. They represent less than a quarter of all chief executive officers. Of course, gender discrimination in the workplace just doesn't impact women. We understand that. In 2021, a review of the act made 10 recommendations that would help Australia accelerate progress towards workplace gender equality, as well as making reporting easier for employers. The review identified where further action was needed to strengthen the act. The Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023, together with the remade instruments under the act, fulfils most of the recommendations of the review that require legislative amendment.
The current approach of publishing aggregate industry gender pay gaps is not creating the transparency, accountability and insights we need in order to close the gender pay gap fast enough. But, now, change is here under the Albanese Labor government. Research tells us the value of publishing employer gender pay gaps in encouraging employers to address adverse gender dynamics in the workplace, and in ensuring individuals—both employers and employees—move towards real-world action that will make a change in their workplaces.
The bill will align the act with Workplace Gender Equality (Matters in relation to Gender Equality Indicators) Instrument 2013 (No.1) by including sexual harassment and harassment on the grounds of sex or discrimination, as gender equality indicators in the act. This change recognises the importance of these core gender equality indicators and updates the act to bring it in line with its instrument and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as well as other recent legislative changes, including the Respect@Work reforms. The bill ultimately reflects the increased ambitions of all these measures to strengthen gender equality and improve outcomes for both women and men in the workplace by amending the act to rename current minimum standards as gender equality standards.
This bill is the first step. There is more we want to do and, until gender equality occurs in all facets, we are not there. We will not be advancing Australia fair. There are further reforms to come, and the Office for Women in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will continue to work to identify the best pathways for good. Every measure in this bill has been designed in close consultation with stakeholders across Australia, including the business and not-for-profit sectors, employee organisations, higher education providers and the women's sector. The bill represents a critical piece of the government's ongoing commitment and action towards gender equality and empowering every woman and girl across Australia.
I have two daughters and four granddaughters. They deserve to have the same opportunities to succeed in life and be paid as much as their male counterparts. To show the gender balance: I have three grandsons as well. We want equality for both genders. With our gender equality legislation and new strategy to achieve gender equality, working in concert with Respect@Work to secure jobs, better pay, and improvement for fairness and families, the bill will help us to achieve our goal of being one of the best countries in the world for equality between women and men. We have already passed Paid Parental Leave, which gives access to both partners parenting a child. That is another reform. We took action immediately on coming to government.
Reporting will commence in 2024, drawing on data already provided by employers. Companies' gender pay gaps will be published on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency website. There will be nowhere to hide. Enough is enough where pay parity is concerned. This reform was recommended by the 2021 Review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, and I proudly stand on this side of the chamber because the Australian Labor Party and the Albanese government will always fight for fairness, fair pay for women and girls, and equality in the workplace. That will ensure that we have the best possible outcomes for all Australians.
Barbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak to the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023. I have a very sensible speech written by my wonderful staff about this bill, but I turned 68 yesterday and I'm feeling cranky. In the last two weeks I lost a very dear friend who, like me, has given 40 years to the project of collecting data about the gender pay gap. In my view, there should be more cranky women in this parliament with that kind of experience who can say: 'We need to do what this bill proposes, certainly. We need more transparency in our data on the gender pay gap.'
But data is not going to cut it, my friends. I've spent 40 years collecting that data. I've written the books. My friend, Michelle Hogan, whom we've lost, spent many of those years working alongside me amongst low-paid women, trying to improve their conditions of employment. Michelle's 40 years are measured in many ways in activism and in making a difference through the union movement and the women's movement. I have on my desk today a photo of us together at a roundtable on gender pay inequity in 1991, out of which came a book about what's wrong and what we need to do. We worked together for many decades, and our data have not changed.
This is not to diminish the incredible work that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency does or efforts by governments—people in this place—over decades to attempt to shift these numbers. But the numbers will not shift through the collection of transparent data. That will not be what is necessary, because what's going on in our labour market is not just about the gap between people in workplaces on full-time earnings, and we cannot deal with the gender pay gap just by looking at pay data.
So I support all the measures in this bill, which my colleague Senator Waters spoke about, and the need to go further on better data collection. We need to look, for example, at the gap between part-time workers' earnings, both men and women. That's where the gap is very wide. And we need to look more carefully at total earnings—at bonuses, at superannuation, at cars and at all the things men get more of and women get less of. But we need to do a whole lot of other things, too, and I think of my friend Michelle as I talk about them.
I want to first mention what's going on in our low-paid workforce. I see my fellow colleagues from the Select Committee on Work and Care. We need to lift the pay of women in feminised occupations, as is recommended in the committee's recently tabled report—that is, the childcare workers, the aged-care workers, the disability workers, the nurses, the people in all those systems of care, which is a huge economy of the services sector, where 90 per cent of people work, and women work in every workplace at the bottom. Unless we lift the pay rates of those workers and also improve their conditions, we will not narrow the gender pay gap, and a group of very sad parliamentarians will be standing here in 40 years lamenting the pay gap.
We have to do better than that. One of the ways we have to do better is by changing the conditions of employment for women in those low-paid service and care industries. These women need more than improvement in their pay rate. They need more security in their jobs. So many of them are casual. So many of them cannot predict what hours they're working tomorrow or next week. They're in the retail sector. Their employers can predict how many Granny Smith apples are needed in aisle 6 tomorrow, but they can't tell these workers what their hours will be; they can't tell these workers what their pay will be. Unless we fix the rostering systems, the uncertainty around rostering and the insecurity of employment, we can sing in here all day about the gender pay gap but we will make no difference. We have to do more than that.
We also have to improve the conditions and system of work that supports women. Women's pay is lower because they take time out of the labour market to take care of others—their kids, their parents, their friends and their partners. We can afford, as a first step, to move paid parental leave beyond 26 weeks. It's a good thing that we're going to 26 weeks of paid parental leave, but that's not enough. That takes us to half the international standard. We've recently had costings done on what it would take to bring our paid parental leave system to 52 weeks at minimum wage. It'd cost $2 billion a year. That is 10 per cent of the annual amount for the stage 3 stage cuts. And we women have to come in here and beg for—I mean, it's not nothing, $2 billion, but by hell, it's not $25 billion, which is going mostly to men who are on higher pay. It's time we lifted our paid parental leave system to reach more seriously towards the OECD average. We are at the bottom of the heap, along with the US, and we should do better, as a very wealthy country that can afford to buy very expensive submarines and give a tax cut to mostly men who are earning over $200,000 a year.
The third thing we need to do—and these are my top things; I could go all day, but I have a time limit, which is just as well—was referred to by my colleague Senator Waters. Yesterday we were at a meeting for the Friends of Working Women in this place, and it was a very interesting morning, looking at data that Dr Anne Summers has collected and put before us about the relationship between poverty and violence. We have good data on this now that tells us that so many sole parents are alone because they have escaped violent circumstances, and they are at the bottom of the labour market, insecure in their jobs—when they can find them—and dependent on a payment which in 2013 was cut, as my colleagues said, by $100 a week. Anne Summers made the point that if our Prime Minister had been brought up by his mother under the current regime, the current level of JobSeeker payment, he would be more likely to be in juvie than in the Prime Minister's office. People who grow up in poverty have a higher rate of imprisonment and have a lower rate of opportunity throughout their education and into employment. What we've done since 2013 is confined so many sole parents to poverty, with dire consequences for their children and families. At the very least, we lose them as taxpayers. We lose them in our professional workforce. That poor payment system is one of the reasons our labour supply is short.
In other countries, where good support is given to sole parents and working mothers and where labour systems don't let 25 per cent of the labour force be casualised or insecure, they have a higher participation rate. It's no surprise that a country like Sweden has an average participation rate for women that's eight percentage points higher than here. That's an average increase in the participation rate of four percentage points, and that's worth $100 billion a year. Even if you want to spend it on submarines, God forbid, or on tax cuts for people on over $200,000, we could pay over and over again for a much better regime of support for our working women.
God knows, we could support a Rolls-Royce system of data collection, but it wouldn't be worth the paper it was written on unless we did the essential support changes that our women in our country need. It is time that we stop collecting endless amounts of data without taking action—which is not to diminish the import work that feminists and workers throughout our public sector do in collecting that data. But, alongside that collection of data, we need the actions and the policy supports that will make a difference and the real interventions that we have known for decades, that my friend Michelle Logan has known for decades, that I have known for decades. Any amount of research evidence will tell you the solutions are there, but they do not lie in the collection of data. They lie in action, and that's what we need.
Jess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Colleagues, 2049 is currently the year when the pay gap between men and women is projected to close. In 26 years time, on current trends, women can expect to be paid equally with men in the workplace. I am proud to be part of a government that is not prepared to wait. I'm proud to be part of a government that is ready to act, and I'm proud to be part of a government that is not willing to leave it to the next generation. Because too many generations of women have had to suffer the indignity of being paid less than men for doing exactly the same work, and too many women have had to suffer the economic insecurity of their work being undervalued and underpaid, because their skills are just not properly recognised. We're calling time on that inequality.
The Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023 is part of the solution, ensuring that employers report on their gender pay gap, that they provide that information publicly and that employers are part of the solution not the problem. This is because we are a government that sees women, because we are a government where women make up over 50 per cent and because our economic team understands the critical importance of women's work to the economy, women's work in the care sector, women's work in non-traditional industries and women's workforce participation everywhere. This bill is just a part of our commitment to make sure women are respected and valued at work and that they have the security they need to thrive. So too is our work to support higher pay rises for people on the minimum wage, many of whom are women; our work to support a historic pay rise for aged-care workers; and our work to recognise the critical importance of the care economy and investing in its workforce, who are overwhelmingly women.
Women deserve to be equal and respected at work, and to be equal and respected you need to be paid equally. That is what this bill helps to achieve. The gender pay gap alone costs the country over $51 billion a year, and, compared to other countries, Australia ranks poorly. We are currently ranked 43rd in the world for gender equality. It is absolutely not good enough. It's holding our country back, so we are not wasting any time in taking action. This bill is about two things: accountability and transparency. Because we know that you can't fix what you can't see. To truly close the gender pay gap, you need data from employers and you need to hold employers accountable. Gender equality in the workplace starts with pay. That's why this bill will require employers with over 100 staff to report their gender pay gap. It will provide more information on existing inequalities, and it puts employers on notice that they need to take action. This information will be published publicly on the website of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The bill will also require relevant employers to provide reports of that information to their governing bodies, providing even more transparency. Having this data available for all to see is a critical part of holding companies to account.
With this legislation, hiding the pay gap between men and women is just no longer acceptable. Undervaluing women's work is no longer acceptable. Transparency is powerful. Not only will government be able to see exactly where inequalities occur but so will current and prospective employees. This allows those employees more power in negotiating for fair wages, and it puts the onus back on employers to fix the pay gap. This bill was an election commitment made by Prime Minister Albanese, a commitment for reform that has been long overdue. We are a government that is committed to making gender equality a national priority, as it should be. Australian women deserve fair and safe working conditions. They deserve equal opportunity and equal pay. Women have waited long enough for the pay gap to close, so let's not wait another 26 years.
Fatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to support the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023, which is part of how the Albanese Labor government is working to close the gender pay gap. It charges employers with greater responsibility and accountability towards gender equality in their workforces and helps to drive the actions required to bring about higher levels of gender equality in our country. You see, women on average have 23.4 per cent less super when they come to retirement age than men. They are overrepresented in industries with lower wages and underrepresented in positions of leadership. This inequality doesn't just impact women. It restrains the entire economy. The gender pay gap alone represents a cost of $51.8 billion a year.
In 2021, the Workplace Gender Equality Act was reviewed, and 10 recommendations were made that would help Australia accelerate our progress towards workplace gender equality as well as make reporting easier for employers. This bill, together with the remade instruments under the act, fulfils almost all the recommendations of the review requiring legislative amendment. It also fulfils a key election promise to close the gender pay gap, including by boosting pay gap transparency and encouraging action to close gender pay gaps within an organisation. This bill will drive employer action, transparency and accountability to help us progress towards gender equality in the workplace. This bill will achieve this by allowing the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to report gender pay gaps at the employer level. Currently, the approach is to publish aggregate industry gender pay gaps, and this does not create transparency or accountability required to close the gap. Publishing employer gender pay gaps encourages employers to address the causes of the pay gaps internally, and it also encourages individuals to take action to change the workplace.
Alongside this bill, the remade instruments will streamline aspects of existing reporting, reducing regulatory burdens and freeing businesses up to focus on their efforts on gender equality action. This bill will align the act with the Workplace Gender Equality (Matters in relation to Gender Equality Indicators) Instrument 2013 (No. 1) by including sexual harassment, harassment on the ground of sex, and discrimination as gender equality indicators in the act. This does not change reporting obligations but, rather, recognises the importance of these core gender equality indicators. The bill goes on to reflect the increased ambitions of all these measures to improve gender equality and outcomes for both men and women in the workplace by amending the act to rename 'minimum standards' as 'gender equality standards'. It is the first step, but there is much more this government wants to do to improve workplace gender equality.
While closing the gender pay gap is a major commitment and priority of this Albanese government, it is also an important issue to me personally. Before I was elected to this place, I was an organiser at United Workers Union. That union covers a range of different industries which are highly feminised and highly diverse and where the workers are often overworked and underpaid. From cleaners to aged-care workers to early childhood educators, these industries are majority women and are absolutely essential for the wellbeing of Australians. My time at the union, hearing many tragic and devastating stories of women trying to make ends meet, ignited the desire in me to become involved in politics. It pulled me to join the fight for these workers, because something needed to change. The Australian people voted in a responsible, mature and compassionate government and, in the process, elected me as a senator for Western Australia.
My constituents in the west know that I take my responsibility to stand up for workers and women very seriously. Gender equality is important for all Western Australians, and there is clear evidence that increasing participation of women in the workforce brings economic and social benefits to everyone. This bill represents a critical piece in Labor's commitment to gender equality, which will benefit all Australians and help us achieve the goal of being one of the best countries in the world for equality between men and women.
Tony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to support the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023. This bill is yet another example of the way the Albanese government is delivering on its commitment to grow wages, improve gender equality and close the gender pay gap. It delivers on recommendations of the 2021 Review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. Most importantly, the bill allows the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to establish gender pay gaps at the employer level, rather than just the industry level, and to publish those.
Why is this bill so important? Last year the gender pay gap in this country was 14.1 per cent, and for private companies with over 100 employees that ballooned to 22.8 per cent. That is unacceptable, and at the current rate of progress it would take 26 years to close the gender pay gap. Australian women do not have 26 years to wait for equality. They deserve equality now, they deserved equality yesterday, and they certainly deserve equality through this legislation, which will help achieve it.
That's why this government has treated gender inequality with the urgency it deserves. We supported the $1 increase to the minimum wage, an increase that supported both men and women in low-paid roles, but 55 per cent of workers in low-paid roles are women. Of course, that increase was opposed by those opposite, and no doubt we'll see them oppose a minimum wage increase for low-paid workers again this year.
We made it easier for workers in low-paid, feminised industries to bargain collectively across workplaces, and that is a move that would see this agreement include a wage increase. Of course, that was opposed by those opposite. We made gender equality an object of the Fair Work Act, and again it was opposed by those opposite. We prohibited the use of pay secrecy clauses, which have long been used to stop women from finding out that they are being paid less than their male counterparts. That was opposed by those opposite. We strengthened the right to request flexible work. That was opposed by those opposite. We prohibited sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act, and that was opposed by those opposite.
We are introducing the Housing Australia Future Fund, which will provide 4,000 homes for women and children facing domestic violence, and that is being opposed by those opposite. We've introduced 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. We have made reforms which make child care cheaper and early childhood education more available—measures which enable greater parental workforce participation. And we have made significant improvements to paid parental leave. I want to commend, again, the trade union movement for being at the forefront of driving these reforms. I particularly want to highlight the tireless efforts of the Australian Services Union in the continued fight for gender equality at work. I use the word 'fight' deliberately, because it has been a fight, every step of the way, against those opposite, either through their inaction or direct opposition.
It's easy to forget how we have come to this point. Less than 10 years ago, the Abbott government had just one woman in cabinet—just one! At this time last year we had a prime minister who had told women protesting outside these walls that they should be grateful they weren't being shot at. We had a government that cut penalty rates, a move which attacked women disproportionately because they make up the majority of retail hospitality workers. We had a government that delivered delays in the increase of the superannuation guarantee, a move that cost every worker in this country tens of thousands of dollars and at a time when the average woman already had 23.4 per cent less in their super when they retired.
We should be finding ways to close the gender super gap. Instead, there are members of the opposition who want to destroy superannuation entirely—obviously, I have to mention Senator Bragg as one of them: the representative of the Financial Services Council in this place. He is one of many on the opposite side: there are members of the opposition who prefer to see Australian retirees, including women, retire without super into squalor and poverty. At a time when the fastest-growing demographic suffering homelessness is women over 55, this opposition doesn't want them to have super. This opposition opposes 4,000 new properties for women and children suffering domestic violence; this opposition doesn't want them to have housing. This opposition doesn't want them to have a fair pay rise. This opposition is opposed to everything that stands, and it stands for nothing.
Jana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak in support of the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023.
As we have heard, this is a significant step forward in advancing gender equality in Australian workplaces. This legislation will be instrumental in ensuring that the gender pay gap will continue to close through employer action and greater transparency and accountability, and by progressing gender equality in the workplace. Within our government's term, we have already seen the gap decrease. This is certainly attributable to Minister Gallagher's advocacy in bolstering Australian women's economic empowerment. I would like to commend Minister Gallagher on her incredible dedication and work in introducing the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023 to help close the very real gender pay gap in our country.
I also believe that the historic representation of women in our government has made a considerable difference in how this government is approaching public policy. You can't replace lived experience, and Australian women can rest assured that their experiences and needs are being considered now more than ever. This bill will see employers with 100 or more workers have data on their gender pay gaps published publicly on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency website. Red tape for businesses will be reduced so that this will be easier for companies to do. This is a key reform to drive transparency and action towards closing the gender pay gap. Data collection and publication of these statistics are so important in furthering our knowledge of gender pay gap progression. From international experience, we know that publishing employer-level gender pay gap data can drive organisations to take action on closing the gender pay gap. Having more clarity about the problem means that we can build and design better policy and programmatic solutions. And it means we can track our progress and best direct future efforts to closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
On our current trajectory, it will take roughly 26 years to close the gender pay gap. Recently, the United Nations announced that at the current rate of progress it will take almost 300 years—300 years!—to achieve gender equality worldwide. Currently, and senators may have seen the recent statistics, women in Australia earn 87c in every dollar that men earn. Senators may also have seen the figure that working women who work full-time earn $253.50 less than men every single week. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate interrupted.