Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 10 Hansard (Wednesday, 6 October 2021) . . Page.. 2798 ..
There are some reasons why the gender pay gap continues to exist and, of course, the primary factor is discrimination based on gender. This could be conscious or unconscious, through hiring decisions or the undervaluation of careers, who are traditionally seen more as feminine. As we heard from Ms Orr, these may be categorised more as the unskilled or soft-skilled careers and occupations.
Another factor is that women traditionally take on the lion’s share of society’s unpaid caring and domestic work. One issue which an increase in data collection could help to identify is where there is a need for more flexible or family friendly policies that could be implemented to accommodate women who may take the major caring role in their families and to encourage men to participate more and undertake an equal distribution of this work.
It is important to note that there has been a slight increase this year in the gender pay gap nationally, primarily because the growth of wages of men has outstripped that of women for the second time since 2014. Women have also been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this can also be reflected in the gender pay gap. We have heard from many sources that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on traditionally female-dominated industries and working patterns such as casual and part-time work. There must be recognition of this impact and steps taken to mitigate it.
Female-dominated industries have often been seen as less valued, and the pay reflects that. But we must value these professions to the same standard as male-dominated professions and ensure that they are supported as such. An example of this, I will move from the public service, which is the thrust of Ms Orr’s motion, to mention the community sector, where women make up more than 70 per cent of the workforce in an industry with one of the largest pay gaps at almost 35 per cent.
I recently read an article by a senior policy officer from ACTCOSS, Gemma Killen, which detailed the story of Jane, an ACT woman who moved to the community sector because it aligned with her values. Reflecting on her experience, Jane said:
The whole underfunding of the sector creates this inflamed feeling like everything is squeezed and on fire and the scarcity mindset from widespread competitive tendering means there is not much room for empathy in the workplace. Under-resourcing took so many forms, not enough workers, not enough pay, lack of robust conditions to keep you safe and well and competent. It is not just money, it is architecture, the lack of robust HR systems or ergonomic setups, not enough space or natural light.
Despite the ACT having one of the lowest gender pay gaps in the country, when Jane, in this example, left the community sector and entered into employment in a male-dominated workplace, her annual salary increased by $15,000, her super contributions doubled and she was provided with reasonable working hours and study leave. As I said, as Ms Orr’s motion specifically relates to the ACT public service, I thought it would be prudent to highlight other sectors where we still have a way to go on reducing the gender pay gap.