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WA women worst paid in Australia

THIRTY years have passed since the principle of equal pay for equal work was first endorsed, but the evidence shows that Australian women – and particularly WA women – continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

Recent research suggests that, nationally, women employed full-time earn around 10.5 per cent (or $86 per week) less than their equivalent male counterparts.

In WA the corresponding gender wage gap is much higher, equal to 18.5 per cent or $157 per week (see Table below).

These startling findings are highlighted in the September 2000 issue of the WA Quarterly Bulletin of Economic Trends produced by IRIC at Curtin University.

Dr Preston, author of the paper and Director of the Women’s Economic Policy Analysis Unit at Curtin University, notes the significance of this inequality.

“The large and significant wage gap has an effect on each woman’s purchasing power (which should be of even more concern given that most marketing is directed at the female population), on the economic well-being of women, children of single mothers, and on general wages and living standards in the community,” Dr Preston says.

“We know, for example, that relative wages affect incentives to train. If women know that their skills are undervalued, this may, in turn, affect their willingness to engage in further learning.”

Since the early 1970s wage fixing in Australia has been guided by two important principles, the principle of Equal Pay for Equal Work (1969) and the principle of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value (1972).

So why does pay gap continue?

Dr Preston suggests that a part explanation for the continued gap is that women’s work has yet to be properly valued.

Women and men employed in highly feminised jobs all suffer an earnings disadvantage.

Other aspects of women’s work (e.g. part-time, casual) also affect earnings potential.

Casuals, for example, typically have reduced access to training and promotional opportunities.

In the federal jurisdiction there are legislative provisions preventing sex discrimination in the form of unequal pay for equal work.

In WA there are no such provisions in either the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act 1993, the Workplace Agreements Act 1993 or the Industrial Relations Act 1979.

The Equal Employment Act 1984 does, however, have a specific provision preventing discrimination in pay. Business can avoid litigation by ensuring that men and women are remunerated equally.

* Dr Alison Preston is a research fellow with the Department of Economics, Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology.

email: prestona@cbs.curtin.edu.au

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