Zali Steggall speaks on workplace relations - gender pay equity

7 November 2022


I thank the member for Canberra for bringing forward this important motion on gender pay equity. We know that, disappointingly, recent research from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that the gender pay gap in Australia is impacting women across every industry in every occupation and at every age or life stage. That is really depressing. When I talk to young women in Warringah, they're quite shocked to hear about the status quo, of where things are, when they're at that point of launching into their careers full of optimism. To know that the system is still so stacked against them is incredibly frustrating.

The overall national gender pay gap sits at 14.1 per cent, and, in fact, it's 0.3 percentage points higher than six months ago. Women on average earn $263 less per week than men. This difference, combined with cost-of-living pressures, is placing significant stress on Australian households, particularly for single parents. KPMG estimates that the unequal distribution of household and child-rearing labour is responsible for 39 per cent of this gap, something that a strong paid parental leave scheme can improve. Adding part-time workers widens the gender pay gap for all employees by some 29.7 per cent. Some of the largest gaps are in fact in the professional, scientific and technical services; health care; and financial and insurance services. These are some of the biggest employment services in Warringah.

Most disappointingly, despite all the rhetoric, all of the debates in this House and others, and policy interventions, the gap has only closed by five per cent since 1983. I find that so astounding. The global data shows the same picture. It's consistent. The International Labour Organization has noted that globally, despite substantial progress in women's employment, there had not been any meaningful narrowing of gender pay gaps at work for the past 20 years.

On average, the gender pay gap globally is approximately 20 per cent, and so for every dollar earnt by a man a woman will earn 80c. The gender pay gap contributes to long-term inequity and is one of the key reasons that women over 55 are the fastest-growing group experiencing homelessness. Low superannuation contributions are driven by low wages. Time out of the workforce for childcare and other reasons and for caring responsibilities all stall your superannuation and career progression. We know this; there are no secrets.

We also know that climate change will impact women disproportionately. The gender pay gap makes women more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change—70 per cent of people living in conditions of poverty globally are women, and across the world women have limited access to and control of their environmental goods and services, have negligible participation in decision-making and are often not involved in the distribution of environment management benefits. So women are less able to confront environmental impacts.

I welcome the government's commitment today in relation to improving gender pay equity, including the increased paid parental leave, which took some push, but it was great to see that announcement in the budget; improved affordability of childcare; and increased pay transparency elements of the Fair Work amendments. These are welcome. They aren't coming into effect for some time, though, and I have some concerns about the delay. I appreciate there are implementation issues, but the delay means that women continue to be on the back foot.

There is a strong economic case for these changes. Increasing paid parental leave entitlements to 26 weeks will cost the government some $600 million per year, but it will add $900 million to GDP per year as well as boosting a mother's lifetime earnings by $30,000. Australia has one of the least generous paid parental leave schemes in the world. It's highly gendered and discriminatory in considering only a woman's income in the calculation of eligibility. There are some improvements coming to the system, but I would urge the government to continue. It is not enough; 26 weeks should only be the starting point. We need to continue.

It's clear that childcare affordability is a major issue, and there has been a pledge by the government to improve that, but we need to recognise that the sector is a heavily feminised sector that has critical worker shortage. There were some 7,000 vacancies across the sector in September already and, with the proposed changes, demand will increase. We need to make sure that the government has a holistic view of the picture and increases support for women.