IWD 2021: a reality check on progress

8 March, 2021

A report released today by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) reinforces the serious issues faced by working women which must be urgently addressed by the federal government.

Among the issues detailed in the report are increasing job and financial insecurity, the gender pay gap and the prevalence of unsafe workplaces.

The report also showed a decline in Australia’s ranking on gender pay equity, the continued gender segregation of the workforce and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women workers.

Drop from 15th to 44th in gender pay disparity

ACTU President Michele O’Neil said the report, published on the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day, is a wake-up call for the federal government.

“In 2006 Australia ranked 15th in the world for gender pay disparity but our government’s lack of commitment to adequate paid parental leave, affordable early childhood education and care, and workplace flexibility has seen Australia fall to 44th position,” Michele said.

“With only 15 per cent of Australians believing they can manage both work and family responsibilities, our Government must implement adequate supports like affordable early childhood education and care.

“Australian industries and occupations are highly gender segregated, with the ones dominated by women being paid less and featuring fewer protections – this stems from historical gendered assumptions about the value of ‘women’s work’.”

Respect@Work report ignored

Alarmingly, the federal government has failed to take any action or implement the 55 practical recommendations for reform suggested by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, despite being given the report over a year ago.

Research shows that two in three women have been subjected to one or more forms of sexual harassment at work, and that the regulatory and legal framework is still totally failing to keep women safe, or to assist women in making complaints.

Michele said the government must act on the 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work report.

“These matters are incredibly urgent to ensure safe workplaces, and the government’s inaction is an insult to women,” she said.

Devastating impact of pandemic

Women have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 21% of the female workforce losing work or experiencing pressure on their capacity to retain paid work.

“Female dominated industries make up our pandemic frontline – despite this, they are undervalued and underpaid,” Michele said.

“Our federal government excluded much of the casual workforce from supports during the pandemic, taking money away from a disproportionately female part of the workforce.”

Despite being in the year 2021, women still bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid domestic work, which causes workforce disruption.

Furthermore, women’s ability to participate in the workforce to the same capacity as men is hindered by the lack of affordable early childhood education and care, inadequate shared paid parental leave and an inflexibility in work.

IR Omnibus bill entrenches gender inequality

The federal government’s policies on superannuation and COVID-19 recovery and the proposed IR Omnibus Bill are further entrenching economic inequality.

“The Government’s Omnibus Bill’s attacks on the rights of casuals and part-timers will predominately affect women balancing caring responsibilities and work,” Michele said.

The Government’s Omnibus bill, if passed, will further disadvantage women:

  • Australia’s rate of casualised and precarious work was at 24.2% before the pandemic, and the risk is that the recovery will be dominated by casual work.
  • Women in casual work already earn less than the male counterparts and much less than male permanent workers.
  • 4% of female casual workers work a second job and 25.5% have children under 15. More than 50% of female casuals work weekends.
  • The industries dominated by women, specifically in accommodation, food and retail face changes to the Awards which will suppress wages and further casualise employment.


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