BY CHRIS PICKERING
& STEPHEN O'BRIEN
SYDNEY — On March 28, the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission acknowledged that library workers have been underpaid because they are predominately women.
The IRC handed down a ground-breaking gender pay equity decision which will deliver substantial pay increases and better career paths for librarians, library technicians and archivists employed by the state government.
More importantly, the test case lodged by the NSW Public Service Association (PSA) sets a precedent under the NSW "equal remuneration principle" which could lead to a flow-on for workers in other sectors who lodge similar pay discrimination claims.
The decision allows for pay rises of up to 26% for some classifications, the abolition of age-related entry level salaries for some library technicians (resulting in salary increases of up to 92%) and a single award.
The judgement is a severe blow to NSW TAFE, which argued for a separate award. TAFE wanted the elimination of library occupations as distinct entities by creating a separate generic class of "library workers", with no requirement for library qualifications, to be known as "learning resource officers".
The case's genesis was in 1997 when the NSW Labor government announced a Pay Equity Inquiry to investigate whether female-dominated occupations were undervalued in comparison to male-dominated occupations. The inquiry found a disparity.
Flowing from the inquiry, the government introduced the equal remuneration principle into the Industrial Relations Act in 2000 which, on paper, allowed for cases to be lodged by employees working in female-dominated occupations to seek redress where it can be shown that they were being paid at lower rates than people working in comparable male-dominated industries.
PSA members had already elected representatives to a working party in 1996 to look at constructing a new award for librarians, library technicians and archivists for which they were prepared to campaign. These delegates carried out the huge amount of preparation and consultation, the results of which were tabled in the test case.
A leading member of the working party was Leon Parissi, an activist in the left-wing Progressive PSA faction, a member of Workers Liberty and the Socialist Alliance. Parissi told Green Left Weekly that the breakthrough was achieved by "a dedicated group of PSA delegates", supported by the PSA, "to push for pay justice after years of neglect".
From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.
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