In a decision handed down on May 16, Fair Work Australia (FWA) acknowledged the gender-based undervaluation of the vital work of social and community sector (SACS) workers.
This is a preliminary decision in the historic equal remuneration case led by the Australian Services Union (ASU).
The case was launched in March 2010 and followed a successful pay equity case in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) in 2009.
The QIRC recognised that SACS work had been historically undervalued as it was seen as caring work and an extension of women’s work in the home, and awarded pay increases of between 17% and 38% to rectify this gender inequity.
More than 30 years after "equal pay for work of equal value" was formally achieved in Australia, overall women’s wages are still two-thirds of male wages because of Australia’s gender segregated workforce.
The SACS industry has a highly feminised workforce: 87% are women. Wages are as low as 50% of those doing similar jobs in local, state and federal government positions.
The interim decision by FWA “concluded that for employees in the SACS industry there is not equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal or comparable value by comparison with workers in state and local government employment.
“We consider gender has been important in creating the gap between pay in the SACS industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment.”
FWA however considered that simply adopting the Queensland pay rate was not “appropriate” and is calling for further submissions from the ASU and the federal government.
The applicant unions are to file written submissions by June 10 and the government is to file by June 30. Other interested parties have until July 21. Full bench hearings on the case are scheduled for August 8, 9 and 10.
ASU national delegate of the year Margaret Gleeson told Green Left Weekly: “I think that we should consider this interim decision an historic victory for the rights of women workers in Australia.
“However it would be a very hollow victory indeed if it could not be realized because of state and commonwealth governments lack of commitment to funding."
Most workers in the SACS industry provide services that are funded under federal and state government programs. The employers (small and large not-for-profit community organisations and church-based charities) often have little or no independent income stream to cover wages.
“Julia Gillard is on record as supporting pay equity but has not committed to funding the outcomes of the FWA case,” said Gleeson. “In fact, in arguing its case the commonwealth has raised the issue of the impact of SACS increase funding on the budget surplus.
“The 2011-2012 Commonwealth budget made no provision for wage increases in the community sector which may result from the ASU’s equal remuneration case or for the existing Queensland pay equity decision.
“No increased funding will mean cuts in services to the poorest and most disaffected in the community as well as reduction in working hours and redundancies across the workforce.
“There is already a staffing crisis in the sector, reflected in high staff turnovers and an aging workforce. Without increased funding this will lead to a deskilling of what is now a highly trained workforce, as employers downgrade jobs to balance their books.”
A national day of action has been called for Wednesday June 8 to call for full funding for pay equity by state and federal governments. Events will be held in all capitals and in regional centres.
[Visit http://asumembers.org.au/sacs/ for more details.]