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Social and community services workers receive payrise under equal pay order by Fair Work Australia

In a landmark case for closing the gender pay gap, the Full Bench of Fair Work Australia yesterday agreed to make an equal remuneration order under section 302 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).  What this effectively means is that there will be an increase of up to 41% in the Award pay rates for employees in the social and community services industry – roles predominantly held by women – as compared with other public servant roles. 

This follows an earlier decision in these proceedings, in May 2011, where the Full Bench found that “for employees in the social and community services industry there is not equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal or comparable value by comparison with workers in state and local government” (the latter being held to be appropriate comparitors for the purpose of the application).

It also found that gender had “been important in creating the gap between pay in the industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment.” 

This ruling is important because – as I’ve said before here and here and here – there is more to equal pay than meets the eye.  While the order will apply to both men and women, the truth is most community workers and social services workers are women.  Women who have the unique skills required to care for the most vulnerable and at risk members of our community; but who also have demonstrated a historical inability to succeed at the bargaining table. 

Workers in this industry have shown that they’re better at caring for others than themselves, when it comes to their pay and rights. 

This inability to bargain was acknowledged in the order yesterday and is specifically addressed in terms of the remediation it affords.  And I think it’s further evidence that the biggest cause of the pay gap is the mindset of leaders who’s judgment determines who gets paid what.

These decision makers – by reference to the gender mix (or lack thereof) of board and executive roles – are mostly men, with typical commercial or professional backgrounds, who value certain skill sets and roles more than others. 

It’s a convenient truth for these decision makers that the jobs men more naturally gravitate towards (like finance, professional and sales roles) are paid more on average than roles that many women are often attracted to (like marketing, HR, customer service and, of course, community services). 

It would follow that The Powers That Be think the roles they’ve taken on the way to the top must be more complex and worthy of being paid more than those that provide crisis care, vital community support and social services to our fellow humans most in need.  I don’t know about you, but to me this is flawed logic.

It seems to me that this ruling is a good step forward to righting a number of wrongs, when it comes to equal pay.

I wonder whether other predominantly-female roles like nursing and teaching will follow suit with similar actions – though I don’t know enough about these sectors to know whether they have a case?

Either way, there’s certainly change in the wind… change that is long overdue, but for some will be well worth the wai.

Your thoughts?


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