29/01/2018 - 11:00

Unions, employers at odds on equity

29/01/2018 - 11:00

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The business community and unions may both support reducing the gender pay gap, but their divergent approaches to a solution present a stark choice for policy makers, if submissions to a review of industrial relations laws are any guide.

Unions, employers at odds on equity
Commerce Minister Bill Johnston ordered the review of the state’s industrial relations system in September last year. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The business community and unions may both support reducing the gender pay gap, but their divergent approaches to a solution present a stark choice for policy makers, if submissions to a review of industrial relations laws are any guide.

Submissions to the ministerial review of the state’s employment laws, headed by former WA Industrial Relations Commission acting president Mark Ritter, were revealed earlier this month.

The laws cover about a quarter of the state’s workforce.

One issue that featured in numerous submissions was the gap in average weekly earnings between men and women, which in Western Australia was 22.8 per cent in May 2017, down from more than 25 per cent two years ago.

That is the highest level in the country, however.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ submission to the review included the proposed inclusion of an equal remuneration provision into legislation, which would enable the commission to facilitate gender-based equal pay cases.

The ACTU submission suggests the law should make an explicit statement that no male comparator is required for an equal remuneration order to be made.

Unions WA’s submission contains a similar line of thinking.

“The Fair Work Commission’s insistence on ‘comparators’ in equal remuneration cases has proven to be a way of preventing action on gender pay equity, rather than promoting it,” the document said.

“More broadly, it should be a priority objective of the WA industrial relations system to close the gender pay gap by addressing the gender-based undervaluation of certain industries.”

The approach of making equal remuneration orders without a male comparator is used in Queensland.

In that state, dental assistants were given an 11 per cent pay rise over two years in 2006, partly on the basis that employment in the industry was dominated by women and so it had been undervalued against other industries with similar skill requirements.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA warned against this approach.

“(The chamber) does not believe that equal remuneration will be effectively realised through the facilitation of equal remuneration cases and other activities in the WAIRC,” the CCI submission said.

“Such cases could impose additional costs on business and across the system, yet would be unlikely to achieve pay equality.”

A further challenge was that only about one in every eight private sector workers in the state were covered by the WA industrial relations system, the submission said.

The CCI recommended supporting more wage bargaining in female-dominated industries, and pay equity networks such as CEOs for Gender Equity.

Reducing the gender pay gap is further complicated by the nature of work in WA.

Half of the state’s employed women are in part-time work, reducing weekly take-home pay, while only 18 per cent of men work part time.

Agenda

Hospitality and community service-focused union United Voice opposed a review of state award conditions, arguing it would be complex and resource intensive, while the United Firefighters Union said the awards needed to be updated and simplified.

The United Voice submission states that, if an award review does take place, Unions WA and United Voice should be given government funding to take part.

Other unions lobbied for a higher minimum wage and a right to flexible work-hour arrangements.

In particular, the ACTU said statutory rights should include paid parental leave, paid family leave, domestic violence leave and a right to reduced work hours for carers and parents.

A further move requested by Unions WA would give unions the right to access employment records of non-members.

“Industrial inspection is not enough; unions should be able to actively prosecute for breaches of compliance,” the submission said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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