Why still the fight for equal pay?

NO EQUALITY: Childcare workers, most of them women, earn half the average for the entire workforce.
NO EQUALITY: Childcare workers, most of them women, earn half the average for the entire workforce.

It really is scarcely believable that pay inequality between women and men is still an issue in 2017.

Not only do women on average earn at least 20 per cent less than men, but in some sectors the gap is actually growing.

This is despite innumerable court victories and other measures, including anti-discrimination laws, designed to ensure gender equality.

The sums involved are scandalous.

A 25-year-old woman with post-graduate qualifications starting out on her career will earn more than $1 million less over her lifetime than the man she sat next to in class, according to a 2012 NATSEM report.

A million dollars! That's enough to buy an apartment. Even in Sydney.

More recent figures compiled by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in concert with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, and based on the four million employees covered by the large companies that report annually to WGEA, show the grim reality of women's remuneration in Australia.

Their report Gender Equity Insights 2017: Inside Australia's Gender Pay Gap, released last Thursday, finds there is a full-time gender pay gap of 23.1 per cent.

But when you look at the total earnings of women and men employed full-time, the gap rises to 26.5 per cent.

That's when you include overtime, superannuation, bonus payments and other non-basic salary components.

We might have assumed the higher up in management a woman moved, the more likely she is to get equal pay.

But unless she's in politics or a similar job where pay is strictly regulated, this is not the case.

Women in senior management get an average of $93,000 less per year than male counterparts, reports WGEA.

Ironically, the only jobs where women are not systematically worse done by is in part-time employment, where women make up 75 per cent of employees. Women earn 7.8 per cent more than men in these jobs – but only as long as they stay in the bottom ranks.

Even in some full-time occupations, the pay is significantly less for women.

This is especially so in women-dominated occupations. Take childcare workers.

These are the people, almost all of them women, charged with educating our pre-school children yet their pay, about $20 an hour, is half the average for the entire workforce.

It is difficult to comprehend how an economic injustice of this magnitude can be tolerated in a country such as Australia that supposedly values the “fair go”.

There is no legal, social or economic justification for it. But at the same time neither is there any evidence of a concerted effort to do anything about.

There have been several important court victories. But the sector-by-sector approach is not only slow, it does not cover vast tracts of the workforce.

Back in the early 1980s, when I headed the Office of the Status of Women, I used to assert with utter confidence that women's pay was on a fast track to parity.

Although women were only earning 80 cents for every dollar men pocketed, just over a decade earlier, in 1970, women had got only 59.1 cents.

That had risen to 70.4 cents in 1973 and 77.4 cents in 1975.

In just five years, we had gone from just under 60 per cent of men's earnings to almost 78 per cent. The gap is closing fast, I used to say.

I could never have imagined that more than 30 years later, we would even still be talking about equal pay.

So, much as we will appreciate the plaudits and the celebrations at events marking International Women's Day this week, I am sure that most women would rather have the money.

It seems ridiculous that we’re still having the same conversation year after year.

Anne Summers

Author, journalist and thought-leader