ABC NewsRadio with Sandy Aloisi

Release Date: 
13 November 2018

SUBJECTS: Gender pay gap, women’s economic security

SANDY ALOISI: Kelly O’Dwyer is Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women and she joins us now. Minister, good morning to you.

KELLY O’DWYER: Good morning, Sandy.

SANDY ALOISI: A decrease of 1.1% over 2017-18 in the gender pay gap, is that good enough?

KELLY O’DWYER: Well look, it’s trending in the right direction but I think we would all acknowledge that it’s still too high and it’s one of the reasons that the Government has provided the Workplace Gender Equality Agency with additional funding to be able to measure the gender pay gap across a much broader cohort. Right now it only measures the gender pay gap for around about 40 per cent of the workforce, but with these changes it will be able to actually measure it across about 75 per cent of the workforce. When you measure it you can provide a greater mechanism for accountability and there are some workplaces that don’t fully understand that there is in fact a gender pay gap. When they have that information they can take action.

SANDY ALOISI: Does it frustrate you Minister to hear that Libby Lyons from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency says Australia is 50 years away from closing the gender pay gap? It not only frustrates me, it makes me feel angry.

KELLY O’DWYER: Yes, well I think she’s also said that there’s a downward trend and we will able to get to equality much more quickly as a result of some of these trends that we’re now seeing. So I think that it is frustrating to think that there is a difference. I think we have to look at some of the causes of the gender pay gap when we talk about this issue. We know that women tend to have a disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work – and that can often be a decision that families take because it’s right for their family – but sometimes it’s not a decision that’s taken because men who want to take more caring responsibilities don’t feel that they can have the flexibility in their workplace to do that. Now we’re seeing an increase in the number of policies in workplaces that also provide that flexibility for men, but it’s got to be more than just a policy, we want to see men actually taking up that opportunity. When we see a change in the way that men and women embrace work and the flexibility for both men and women to work, and to balance that with their caring responsibilities, we will see a change in the gender pay gap.

SANDY ALOISI: I see that four of the 19 industries looked at by the agency saw their gender pay gap actually widen in the recent year. This includes health care which arguably is dominated by women. Do you think employers in this and those other industries think that just because they have a majority of women on staff that they’re not concerned about this?

KELLY O’DWYER: That’s certainly the analysis of Libby Lyons who heads up the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, that some of those professions where there are lots of women think they mustn’t have an issue when it comes to the gender pay gap. But she speculates that, for instance in that example you’ve provided, perhaps there are more men in management there and the women are actually in the lower paid roles and that’s one of the reasons why we see the gender pay gap which is of course the difference between women and men’s average weekly full time base salary earnings expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. So it doesn’t compare like for like roles, it presents on average the weekly full time base salary earnings.

SANDY ALOISI: Labor says it will force companies with more than 1,000 workers to disclose gender pay gaps if it wins the next election. What is your Government doing to address this issue?

KELLY O’DWYER: We have provided additional funding the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to actually cover a much broader cross section of the workplace, so that we can actually properly account for the gender pay gap. Already as you see from today’s announcement we are seeing an industry by industry break down, individual employers actually get the information about their workplaces, and while this issue of disclosure for individual workplaces is one that has recently been embraced by the UK they’ve only just recently reported on 12 months of data and we will monitor and see how that goes…

SANDY ALOISI: But don’t you think… I’m sorry Minister to interrupt you… don’t you think it’s a good idea for companies to disclose gender pay gaps in their companies rather than we really just have no idea what’s going on in them?

KELLY O’DWYER: Well we do have an idea because we do an industry by industry breakdown, and that’s exactly what we’re referring to today and what we’re focused on with the information that’s been provided, so there is a lot of disclosure around where there are gender pay gaps within specific industries. Employers know – and these are employers who obviously have more than 100 employees if they’re covered by the legislation that we are talking about here with the reporting obligations – but in terms of individual employers, they can voluntarily disclose their gender pay gap, and some do that, but we’re not going to be punitive here. We want to work together with employers to actually close the gender pay gap. We will monitor what happens in the United Kingdom, we will see if it does make a measurable difference and if it does we will re-evaluate.

SANDY ALOISI: So finally, does it frustrate you as a women that we are still talking about this in 2018?

KELLY O’DWYER: Well I think a lot of women will be pretty frustrated hearing this but it’s important that we do talk about it and it’s important that we do measure it, and if we measure it we can actually put in practical measures that can deal with it. I’m delivering the Women’s Economic Security Statement next week at the National Press Club and I’ll be talking about a number of those practical measures.

SANDY ALOISI: Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning.

KELLY O’DWYER: Thanks very much, Sandy.