equal pay

An estimated 7000 childcare workers took industrial action by walking off the job around Australia on September 5 to demand equal pay.

 

More than 6000 early childhood educators walked off the job on March 27 for the third time in 12 months to demand equal pay. In addition, more than 30,000 parents made other arrangements for their children, or kept them at home, to stand in solidarity with childcare workers.

The walk-off was part of a nationwide day of action called by the workers’ union United Voice prompted by the failure of the federal government to act on equal pay. Early childhood educators are among the lowest paid professionals in Australia.

The fact that Barnaby Joyce has been forced to step down from the leadership of the Nationals is a good thing. Not so good was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's reframing of the former deputy PM's wrongdoings in terms of a paternalistic, sexual moralism.

Rather than address Joyce’s abuse of parliamentary privilege to ensure his partner maintained her well-paid media advisor job and questions over Joyce’s expenditure claims for travel and accommodation, Turnbull decided to play the moral card.

Communist and feminist Zelda D’Aprano became the symbol of the fight for equal pay when, in October 1969, she chained herself to the Commonwealth Offices in Melbourne, after becoming frustrated at the lack of pay equity for women.

D’Aprano was employed by the meatworkers union, which was involved in a test case on the gender pay gap in the meat industry before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. At the time, women’s participation in the workforce was 38% and they were paid 75% of men’s wages for doing the same work.

Early childhood educators, from Cairns to Hobart and from Perth to Townsville; from big cities like Sydney to the smallest like Launceston, walked off the job on September 7 to demand equal pay.

Around Australia, 90 child care centres and more than 3000 educators, parents, children and supporters from other unions and community groups joined the largest early childhood walk-off in Australia’s history.

The childcare workers’ strike on International Women’s Day caused me to reflect on the long journey towards equal pay and my personal experience over 50 years of my working life.

My first job as a student was as a conductor on Sydney buses from 1964 to 1966. Bus conductors and teachers were the only jobs that paid women the same rates as men, because there were “manpower” shortages in these industries. However, it was not until late 1966 that women conductors could be promoted to drivers.

It took more than 100 years of struggle to ensure the poorest workers in Australia received reasonable wages and conditions. But today inequality and poverty are growing rapidly. The living standards of the majority continue to drop, while at the same time there is a huge expansion of the wealth of a tiny minority.

In an historic decision, Fair Work Australia (FWA) awarded pay rises of 19-41% to 150,000 mostly female workers in the social and community services sector (SACS) on February 1.

It was the most important equal pay case since equal pay for work of equal value was formally recognised in 1972.

The decision awards an extra 4% rise in loadings, designed to recognise impediments to bargaining in the industry. Workers will also be entitled to any wage review by FWA each year. The pay rises are effective from December 1, to be phased in over eight years.

There has been intense activity in 2011 around the social and community services pay equity wage case pursued by the Australian Services Union (ASU) and four other unions.

The claim, which was lodged in March 2010, is rapidly approaching its conclusion.

Since late January 2011, there has been:

• A new round of site visits, during which members of the Fair Work Australia tribunal hearing the case visited public sector workplaces to see how the work compared to that in the non-government sector.

The federal Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard filed a submission to Fair Work Australia (FWA) on November18, which backed away from its year-long commitment to support the Australian Services Union (ASU) application for an Equal Remuneration Order for social and community sector and disability workers.

The government said it supported the principle of pay equity, and agreed community sector workers were underpaid, but its submission argued against granting equal pay to this historically exploited section of the workforce because of budget constraints.

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