WHY WE HAVE TO CLOSE THE GENDER PAY GAP

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP 
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION 
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION 
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN 
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

WHY WE HAVE TO CLOSE THE GENDER PAY GAP

This week, Lisa Wilkinson has shone the national spotlight on Australia’s problem with gender pay inequity. In refusing to accept lower pay than her male co-anchor, Lisa courageously took a stand for equal pay for equal work. I applaud her for doing it.

But the truth of the situation is that most women don’t have the power and privilege to be able to walk away from an employer who is discriminating against them.

Often, quitting in protest could mean unemployment. 

Instead, many women just bear it. Or, they don’t even know it’s happening in the first place. 

Lisa Wilkinson was able to take a stand because she knew she wasn’t getting a fair deal. But Australia still has pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts – banning workers from telling their colleagues what they get paid. Pay secrecy clauses only make sense to me if a company has something to hide. 

During a Senate Inquiry into pay secrecy clauses last year, Australia’s companies and industry groups fought hard against pay transparency and the Turnbull Government backed them in.

Hiding pay gaps in your organisation – having pay gaps in your organisation – is straight up unacceptable.

But the most serious gender inequity in Australia is not in executive pay.

What worries me is that “women’s work” is valued less.

To quote Christine Lagarde, ‘if a woman is doing it or saying it – it is just not as important.’

A woman working in a female-dominated industry on average earns almost $40,000 less each year than a man in a male dominated industry.

A lot of these women, on low to middle incomes, are also struggling with the cuts to penalty rates which disproportionately impact women. 

To close the gender pay gap, we need to be fighting for pay equity for these women.

The gender pay gap has barely changed over the last two decades.

Earlier this year, a Federal Government agency told Parliament that Australia is 50 years away from closing the pay gap.

We can’t wait that long. The gender pay gap won’t fix itself.

We need to restore penalty rates. We need to make sure the workplace relations system is equipped to address the undervaluation of women’s work. We need to support pay transparency. And we need firm commitment to end gender pay inequity once and for all.

This opinion piece was first published in Cosmopolitan on Thursday, 19 October 2017.