The rate of Australian women facing financial crisis and poverty as they approach retirement is on the rise due to a failing superannuation system that leaves a majority of women with 47% less superannuation than men.
Interrupted careers, lower paid jobs and part-time roles, as well as unpaid caring duties, leave many women reaching retirement age in Australia with real concerns around their financial security.
What is being labelled the “gender superannuation gap” can severely reduce older women’s quality of life, leaving them to rely solely on the age pension, meaning women find themselves needing to work longer in order to avoid poverty.
The proportion of working women in the age brackets of 65 to 74 has risen by 50% in the past decade, but even with compulsory super, women cannot accumulate the same balance as men because of the time taken out during maternity leave and carer’s leave.
The long-held perception that caring is women’s work has led to a society that often undervalues women’s contributions, which is not addressed by the current superannuation system.
Women aged 55 and over are also the fastest growing cohort of homeless Australians, with the number of older women experiencing homelessness rising by 31% between 2011 and 2016.
Research from the Melbourne Institute found significant disparity in Australia’s minimum wage awards, largely driven by the low value placed on work commonly performed by women – who account for 82% of minimum wage employees.
The report states “the industrial court does not set different wages for men and women. However, it could, in principle, produce a gender wage gap by setting lower minimum wages in occupations and industries in which women are relatively more concentrated… the three most female-dominated industries being supermarkets, hospitals and school education.”
Enhanced superannuation provisions won by union members
While the systemic issues with the current superannuation system will require significant action from government and employers to overcome, there are some steps working women can take to enhance their superannuation.
Due to the bargaining strength of IEUA-QNT members, the majority of employees in Queensland schools have access to a superannuation co-contribution scheme.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said participating in superannuation co-contribution was a critical consideration for women members but more action was needed from government and employers to bridge the superannuation gap.
“Without the recognition of this issue and the implementation of provisions to address the gender gap, women will continue to face an inequitable retirement future.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is also calling for the government to remove the requirement for workers to earn at least $450 a month before they receive superannuation, as this limit disproportionately impacts women.
Members are urged to consider the benefits of accessing superannuation co-contribution.
Where the provision exists in your collective agreement, you can simply write to your employer requesting access to the scheme.
If you have any questions or concerns about the superannuation provision in your agreement, contact our union for support.