Equal Pay Day 2023

A collage of Julia Gillard and Duygu Yengin

The Hon Julia Gillard AC, 27th Prime Minister of Australia and Associate Professor Duygu Yengin, School of Economics and Public Policy.

Each year the Workplace Gender Equality Agency uses the Australian Bureau of Statistics average weekly earnings data to calculate the number of days after the end of financial year that women have to work to be paid the same as the average man. The date they arrive at is called Equal Pay Day.

In 2023, it will be held tomorrow, Friday 25 August, to reflect the 56 additional days from the end of the financial year that Australian women must work to earn the same average pay as Australian men.

To mark this date, I am delighted to present two powerful and moving comments produced for the occasion in response to an invitation that they reflect on the inequity that Equal Pay Day represents. We are delighted to present below insights from a distinguished former student and great friend and supporter of the University of Adelaide, the Hon Julia Gillard AC, 27th Prime Minister of Australia, along with a current colleague from the School of Economics and Public Policy who researches in this area, Associate Professor Duygu Yengin.

Let’s hope that, if we work together, 30 June will one day be the day we commemorate Equal Pay Day. That would mean that both men and women can expect to take home the same average salary for their work. This, surely, is an outcome worth fighting for?

Associate Professor Anne Hewitt
Adelaide Law School
Associate Dean Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Faculty of ABLE

Gender equality is both an urgent economic goal and a timeless moral imperative.

The continuing disparity between men’s and women’s pay is one way of measuring our failure to realise gender equality and is a symptom of the power imbalance that defines workforces here in Australia and around the world.

This persistent inequality has important consequences. Research by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership shows that gender pay gaps are both a symptom and a cause of other forms of inequality. They can lead to poorer health outcomes for women and children, and women living in poverty in older age. The 2023 Status of Women Report Card showed women approaching retirement have over 23 percent less superannuation than men of the same age.

Gender pay gaps also reflect women’s underrepresentation in senior roles and the unequal distribution of unpaid caring work.

The battle for equal pay is one Australian women have been fighting valiantly for decades.

Despite these efforts, the battle is far from over and the rate of progress remains too slow.

It’s been more than 50 years since meat industry workers took the fight to court, and the general female award minimum wage was lifted to 85 percent of the male wage.

It was several years more before the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (ACAC) ruled that women and men undertaking similar work that had similar value were eligible for the same rate.

While in theory this was excellent progress, the reality was women often struggled to have the value of their jobs assessed fairly, and inequality remained rife.

I am proud that in 2012, while Prime Minister, the Federal Government provided $2.8 billion to help redress the gender pay gap. The funding saw about 150,000 social and community sector workers receive regular wage rises of up to 45%. Around 120,000 of those workers were women. They were discriminated against for too long, while working to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in our community.

Women, and all the work they do, are so essential to Australian society.

Zelda D’Aprano was a trailblazer in the fight for equal pay, and she said it best in 2016, just two years before she passed, aged 90. She said, “Can you imagine Australia if all the women went on strike? If that was the case, the country would close down”.

How right she was. Women must be given equal recognition and remuneration for their work, especially now, when so many are struggling with the rising cost of living.

Equal Pay Day is an opportunity to rededicate our efforts and promise to never give up until true equality is achieved.

The Hon Julia Gillard AC, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the busiest of them all?

The most recent time use survey (2020-2021) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has an answer. If you are a woman in 35-44 age group, you are the unlucky winner. 55% of women in this age group reported always or often feeling rushed for time. A 2017 PWC report reveals an even more drastic pattern for Australia: women do 76% of childcare, 67% of domestic work, 69% of care of adults and 57% of volunteering. PWC estimated the economic value of this unpaid work to be $2.2 trillion.

24 hours a day may feel insufficient, especially if you are a woman with a career and have children. But more importantly, 12 months in a year is not enough time for women to gain the economic security of their male counterparts: women need on average to work 2 extra months (56 more days) after the end of 2022-2023 financial year to reach the average annual earning of Australian men.

Some people see no problem with the gender pay gap (which sits at 22.8%, according to WGEA). Some economists argue that market forces take care of everything. After all, they would say, “why should we interfere in people’s choices?” If women choose to do part-time, or lower-paid work, that is their choice.

This viewpoint ignores several factors. First, every industry in Australia, not just the lower-paid female-dominated sectors, has a gender pay gap. Second, choices are not made in a vacuum. Our seemingly free choices are shaped by the social and cultural expectations as well as the way the labour market is structured (inflexible working hours and the cost of childcare favours family structures with full-time working fathers and part-time working mothers). Third, it ignores the role of unconscious bias in evaluating the merit of women’s work. Even after accounting for all other possible factors (such as career breaks, choice of occupation, experience level, productivity differences etc.), pure discrimination in labour markets may account for 38% of the gender pay gap (Blau, Kahn, 2017).

Even though women are better educated than men (60.4% of all Australian university graduates), the bias starts right at the first job, with young graduate women earning 2.9% less on base salary. As seniority increases, so does the pay gap. Top-tier female managers earn 26.5% less than their male counterparts. Various historical examples, from computer programming to biology, show how feminization of jobs reduce prestige and wages. Wages drastically fell (by 34%) when women in large numbers became designers, housekeepers (by 21%) and biologists (by 18%) (Levanon, England and Allison, 2009). The uncomfortable fact is that, if the same job is done by a female, we simply perceive it to require less competence. Let us take a moment to think about these facts. Undervaluing women’s work is a loss not just for women but for the whole society. Coming from a Turkish background, I always remember what Mustafa Kemal Ataturk once said, “Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?”

Associate Professor Duygu Yengin
School of Economics and Public Policy
Women in Economics Network SA Co-Chair

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