Madam Speaker, I cannot stress enough the importance of this motion. Since the first attempts at legislating equal pay for equal work in this country, our understanding of the “gender pay gap” has evolved into a complex phenomenon with many branches, matching the growth of our now similarly more mature and complex economy. It is therefore the responsibility of governments; state, territory and federal, to remain alert to the gender pay gap, the manner in which it presents and to respond appropriately.

The best place to start for an understanding of how the gender pay gap presents in 2021 is UN Women Australia’s own definition of “equal pay for work of equal value.” UN Women Australia note that “Equal pay means that all workers have the right to receive equal remuneration for work of equal value. While the concept is straightforward, what equal pay actually entails and how it’s applied in practice has proven to be difficult.”

They elaborate that “Work of equal value can mean a job that is the same or similar, as well as a job that is not the same but is of equal value. This distinction is important because women’s and men’s work may involve different types of qualifications, skills, responsibilities, or working conditions, yet be of equal value, and, therefore, merit equal pay.”

For instance, Madam Speaker, a career in the still male-dominated construction sector pays well over a career in early childhood education, a largely female dominated sector, despite both professions presenting an equally high value service to the economy. This is not to criticise the value of construction worker’s labour, which is indeed significant, but rather to condemn the severe and frankly cynical economic and social devaluation of early childhood education and its predominately female workforce.

Madam speaker, many of us here would be  familiar with some key reasons as to why the gender pay gap might persist, but for those who require a refresher, UN Women Australia identifies the main culprits and reports that:

  • “The lasting impacts of restrictive, traditional gender roles are responsible for creating and sustaining pay inequalities. Gender stereotypes steer women away from occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men and push them toward care-focused work that is often regarded as “unskilled,” or “soft-skilled” and therefore, lower paid.”
  • “The motherhood penalty is another reason for the pay inequity. On average, working mothers are paid less than non-mothers, and the disparity increases as the number of children a woman has increases. Lower wages for mothers may be related to reduced working time, employment in more family-friendly jobs which tend to be lower paying, hiring and promotion decisions that penalize the careers of mothers, and a lack of programmes to support women’s return to work after time out of the labour market.”
  • “Furthermore, discriminatory hiring practices and promotion decisions that prevent women from gaining leadership roles and highly paid positions sustain the gender pay gap.”
  • “Migrant women in particular are overrepresented in the informal sector around the globe. Street vendors, domestic workers, coffee shop staff, and subsistence farmers are often women. These jobs are often informal and fall outside the domains of labour laws, trapping employees in low-paying, unsafe working environments, without social benefits, perpetuating the gender pay gap for women working in these conditions.”
  • “Another key cause of the gender pay gaps persistence is women’s over representation of unpaid work in addition to their paid work. UN Women Australia report that women do three times as much care and domestic work as men, globally. This includes household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, fetching firewood and water, and taking care of children and the elderly.”

An almost inconceivable amount of capital is produced daily from this work. Work that without which, none of us would survive. It is therefore extraordinary but predictable that this labour is both socially and fiscally undervalued.

Madam Speaker, the gender pay gap doesn’t only impact women’s daily lived experience. In Australia, the amount of money one earns over their lifetime directly correlates to financial outcomes in retirement. This is to say Madam Speaker, quality of life in retirement is explicitly linked to how much money you earn throughout your career. According to Australian Super, women retire with 42% less super than men on average. Many factors influence this outcome, but the gender pay gap remains a very large one and perhaps the most significant.  

As noted earlier, industries with a predominately female workforce will pay workers significantly less on average compared to industries with a predominately male workforce. An early childhood educator is going to accrue a lot less super than a construction worker. Their contribution to the economy is equal, but at the end of the day the early childhood educator has the double whammy of less pay week to week and less superannuation on retirement. Consequently, Australian women are made to disproportionally rely on the inadequate public pension provided by the commonwealth. In fact, Madam Speaker, as of June 2021, approximately 60% of the 25,000 people reliant on the age pension in the ACT are women.

We know that women perform a much larger share of unpaid labour in our society; childcare, domestic chores and other caring tasks. This means that they are again expending their labour not only without pay but also without superannuation.

When women take parental leave, and it is still usually women who take parental leave, they miss out on superannuation. I do note that there are advances in the number of Men taking parental leave in lieu of their partners. This advance is great but there is a long way to go.

While I’m on the topic, I would like to point out the Superannuation Guarantee Threshold. This rule in our employment law means that employers only have to pay superannuation if an employee makes more than $450 per month.

Women, due to the factors I have just discussed, are far more likely to be long term part time employed, fall under this threshold, and therefore receive no superannuation for the remunerated work they do.

As I have already referenced, before the pandemic, employed women were still doing more than their fair share of unpaid domestic labour. Worryingly, since the pandemic, we have seen this phenomenon skyrocket, with Australian women, according to the Gratton institute “doing an extra hour each day more than men, on top of their existing load.”

The Gratton institute has also found that “the gender gap in unpaid and paid work was already bigger pre-COVID in Australia than in the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand. Despite strong increases in female workforce participation in recent decades, Australian women still do about two hours more unpaid work each day on average than Australian men. Conversely, men typically do about two hours more paid work each day than women.”

In Australia the national gender pay gap has reduced from a high of 18.5% in November 2014 to 13.4% in November 2020, although there has subsequently been an increase back up to 14.2% as of May 2021.

In the ACT the gender pay gap is 7.9%, which is clearly a lot better than the average across the nation.

Madam Speaker, as of March 2021, Australia ranks 50th in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. As an aside, I find it both of concern and interest that with our GDP of 1.6 trillion US dollars, or 62,000 USD per capita, we are 9th in the world by this measure. Yet Australia is still coming in so low again at 50th place when it comes to the gender pay gap. Despite the rhetoric of the Federal Government, the fact is that our nation is wealthy Madam Speaker. We are just exceptionally poor at sharing it.

Madam speaker when we are lucky enough to be paid for it, women are still earning less for labour of equal value than men in addition to managing an unfair share of unpaid domestic labour. This injustice categorically harms women and children, especially those of us with intersections of wealth, race, language, and ability which also attract economic and social discrimination.

Adding insult to injury, we have seen the Federal Government functionally leave women out of pandemic recovery packages. It is therefore with great relief that I note the ACT Government has done effective work to reduce gender inequality within its own workforce. This is reflected in our high female participation rates and low gender pay gap. As a result of the good work by the ACT Government and Public Service, the ACT Public Service has an overall gender pay gap of 1% or less, with 65% of ACTPS employees being women. Indeed, to build on the work already undertaken, starting in the 2022-23 financial year directorates will be directed to report on Gender Action Plans and Gender Impact Assessments in their annual reports. This level of participation also has a positive macro influence on the gender gap in superannuation.

While the ACT has better reporting compared to other jurisdictions in Australia, we can continue to improve reporting here, increasing the average level of reporting across the country.

Through my motion, I have identified some data gaps which we can begin to fill. There remains a lack of reporting available on the breakdown between directorates. There is also a lack of reporting on the difference in outcomes between executive and non-executive levels.

These details are useful in identifying areas where we can focus on increasing gender equality and equal remuneration. Consequently, Madam speaker, I ask this this assembly calls on the government to urgently:

  • Undertake more detailed reporting on the gender pay gap in the ACT Public Service;

  • Include in this undertaking a breakdown of the gender gap between directorates; and

  • Include in this undertaking a breakdown of the gender gap between executive and non-executive levels in the ACT Public Service.

Additionally, Madam Speaker, my motion calls on the government to work on identifying methods of reporting on gender gaps amongst employees working either part time or casually, and the experience of women from diverse backgrounds or women living with disability.

I would like to note, Madam Speaker, that I have deliberately left the method of reporting open in my motion. There are a variety of ways to report this data and I have left it to the discretion of the ACT Public servants responsible to ensure the most appropriative method is employed.

Madam Speaker, wage discrimination remains one of the most precise measures of gender inequality we have. However, gender inequality is multifaceted and any serious attempts to understand and respond to it by government needs to reflect that. By creating an environment in which data is more refined, this motion aids in addressing the gender pay gap.   

I commend the motion to the Assembly.