Academic journal article Hecate

WorkChoices and Pay Equity

Academic journal article Hecate

WorkChoices and Pay Equity

Article excerpt

Introduction

The year 2006 was a milestone for the regulation of industrial relations and efforts to achieve gender pay equity in Australia. The commencement on 27 March 2006 of the Howard government's Workplace Relations Amendment (WorkChoices) Act 2005 made the most comprehensive changes to the Australian industrial relations and wage-fixing system since Federation. The year 2006 was also noteworthy because State industrial tribunals found gender-based undervaluation of the industrial award wages in one industry overwhelmingly dominated by women workers. These decisions are significant for a number of reasons. First, they are likely to be the last occasions where wage fixing tribunals can apply 'equal remuneration' principles with wide application due to the operation of the federal 'WorkChoices' regime because section 16 of the WorkChoices Act excludes the operation of 'a law providing for a court or tribunal constituted by a law of the State or Territory to make an order in relation to equal remuneration for work of equal value'.1 And second, they demonstrated that gender pay equity can be achieved under a centralised, tribunal based, wage fixing system. This article discusses the impact of the new federal wage fixing system on gender pay equity, and is divided into three parts. The first section briefly examines the history of pay (in)equity under the Australian tribunal-based industrial relations system, and overviews the recent developments at the State level focused on gender pay equity. The second section discusses the 2006 cases in State wage-fixing systems designed to remedy the gender-based undervaluation of children's services employees. The third and final section discusses the implications of the new 'national' workplace relations laws in the context of gender pay equity in Australia.

The Award System and Pay Equity

The issue of gender pay equity is problematic for governments, trade unions, employers and women in paid work, as notable differences still exist between the overall earnings of women and men. While these differences can be partly explained by the occupational locations of women and men in the labour market, the industrial relations and wage fixation system and 'masculine' concepts of skill are equally influential.2 At face value, gender pay equity is a simple concept: men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value. Yet both components of the concept involve complex issues of measurement. The first component - equal remuneration - involves reviewing a variety of different employment forms and wage measurement, spanning issues of full-time and part-time hours of work and the inclusion or otherwise of overtime and indirect forms of earnings. The second component - equal value - leads to similarly vexed discussions as to what constitutes 'work value', and how it should be measured. Should the valuation of 'feminised' work; that is, female-dominated occupations and industries, require a comparison to 'masculine' work, or can an abstract standard be applied to address the 'undervaluation' of women's work on its own terms?

Historically, the industrial award system in Australia was unsympathetic to the notion that women and men should receive equal pay for work of equal value.3 This outcome was initially influenced by the understanding that men were 'bread winners' and thus deserved a 'family' wage, and therefore women in paid work deserved a lesser wage.4 This understanding was modified by the federal wage fixing tribunal's adoption in 1969 - and State industrial tribunals - of the equal pay for equal work wage fixing principle.5 Due to gender labour market segregation, where women tend to work in different occupations and industries to those of men, the equal pay for equal work principle had only limited application. This limitation was acknowledged by the decision of the federal tribunal to adopt the wage fixing principle of equal pay for work of equal value in 1972. …

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