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John Passant

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January 2013



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Labor’s low pay agenda for women

Let’s deal first with the facts. After over 5 years of a Labor government, the gender pay gap is, at 17.5%, higher now than under Howard.  Here is how Anne Summers puts it in Gender pay gap still a disgrace:

Nine years ago, in August 2004, women almost hit the 85¢ mark, equalling a previous high. But it didn’t last and the gender pay gap now seems to be permanently stuck around 17.5 per cent. (This is according to ABS average weekly ordinary full-time earnings; on some other measures the gap is considerably wider.)

On 3 January this year, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency released a press release Graduate gender pay gap blowout: female grads earn $5000 less. It said in part:

New figures show the gender pay gap between female and male university graduates more than doubled last year, increasing from $2000 to $5000 per annum.

The 2012 GradStats report by Graduate Careers Australia shows median full-time employment starting salaries for male graduates are $55,000 (up from $52,000 in 2011), compared to $50,000 for women (no change from 2011). The current graduate gender pay gap across all occupations is 9.1%.

The analysis has been criticised but if there is an overall gender pay gap of 17.5% then that gap is likely to exist in some form, even if less, for graduate women. Even those criticising the WGEA, such as the Graduate Careers Australia on whose figures the analysis is based, recognise that a gender pay gap exists for women graduates. The differences between the groups is over its size, not its reality.

The GCA survey was of first year employed graduates under 25. GCA’s response seems to be based on the idea that it almost unbelievable that women dentists, architects or lawyers, for example, would be earning much less than their male counterparts. Yet that appears to be the case, based on the response of first year graduates. WGEA says:

The gender pay gap for graduates was most pronounced in the following occupational areas: architecture and building (17.3%, $9,000 difference), dentistry (15.7%, $14,400 difference), optometry (8.5%, $7,000 difference) and law (7.8%, $4,300 difference).

According to Anne Summers (see link above), over a lifetime a male graduate in paid employment will earn around $3.72 million, roughly $1.2 million more than a female graduate. In fact a female graduate will earn $60,000 less over her lifetime than a male employee with no more than a year 12 high school certificate.

Now, some will argue the pay gap is because women take time off to have babies. Certainly capitalism gets the next generation of workers on the cheap, mainly through the unpaid work of women, including unpaid leave.

But that isn’t all of the explanation, not even the major part of it, I suspect.  And it could be addressed by paying working class women a living wage when on leave from work having children, provide free child care 24 hours a day, set up communal kitchens, establish house cleaning brigades and the like.

In any event child bearing surely doesn’t explain the first year graduate pay gap outlined above by the WGEA. In fact employers might be anticipating future child bearing by paying women less from year one. But even that seems only part of the answer.

Some of the pay gap difference is structural. Women work in industries such as teaching and nursing which traditionally have been less well paid because of poor union coverage and where employers, often state governments, think they can appeal to the women in these workforces as nurturers to pay them less.

It is often public schools and hospitals and their largely female workforce which bear the brunt of governments’ ‘responsible’ budgeting programs.

Yet when these female dominated workplaces do fight back with strikes and other industrial action they can beat government pay increase limits for example and win major wage rises and better conditions. As Liz Ross has written about the 1986 Victorian nurses’ strike:

Despite all the obstacles, the nurses won. As The Australian wrote, “The nurses did prove themselves strong enough industrially to make significant gains.” When the strike finally ended on 19 December, 50 days after it began, the government had caved in, agreeing to fund all the union’s demands.

One of the consequences of the destruction of rank and file organisation in unions and the collapse in strikes over the last 3 decades has been an individualisation of work. This means two things. In some industries like building and construction there is a tendency for employees to be re-badged as contractors. So possibly no award applies.

And even if there is an award, most unions are not strong enough after 3 decades of collaboration with the bosses, or they are hamstrung by Labor’s industrial laws, from policing and enforcing awards and enterprise agreements.

The gender pay gap looks as if it is systemic. That is why, as Anne Summers (see the link above) points out by quoting former High Court judge Mary Gaudron from 1979::

”Equal pay was ‘won’ in 1969 and again in 1972 and yet again in 1974.” And, she added, ”We still don’t have it”.

That is a true today as it was in 1979.

The campaign for equal pay in the 1960s was militant and put the issue on the agenda and won formal equality. Maybe militancy is the answer to winning equal pay in reality.

The gender gap puts downward pressure on all wages, male and female. It also means as the structure of capitalism has changed and families now need something more than one salary to survive on and raise a family, that lower pay for women means less remuneration for families, ie for women and their men.

The Prime Minister was evidently concerned to hear about the graduate gender pay gap.

Well, Gillard, after 5 years of Labor governments, why does a gender pay gap still exist at all, let alone being worse than under Howard in 2004?

And of course there were the usual mealy mouthed platitudes from Gillard about what Labor had done for Social and Community Service (SACS) workers. Here is how the Herald Sun reported her spin:

Ms Gillard said her government had already acted to make a difference to gender pay inequality.

“The industrial relations system we have now has a principle at its centre, which is that women and what is viewed as women’s work traditionally should not be the subject of lower pay rates,” she said.

“We haven’t just enacted a bill about it. We’ve actually put our money where it should be with around a $2 billion investment to deal with the long-term disadvantage that social and community services workers are faced (with), basically, because they tend to be women.”

There is less to this than meets the eye. The equal pay increases are being phased in over 7 years. It is a promise to be met on the never never, an example of the bankcard bankruptcy of Labor. Fully fund the pay increases now, Gillard.

Employers will push for lesser wage increases in enterprise negotiations to offset the equal pay increase. And $2 billion isn’t enough to cover equal pay increases for all 150,00 workers in the industry.

Estimates are that the equal pay decision will be white-anted to the tune of about 40% over the next 7 years through enterprise negotiations and agreements.

SACS workers did run a campaign for equal pay. But it was mainly demonstrations, rhetoric about winning community support and running a case in Fair Work Australia under Labor’s industrial laws.

Because they didn’t strike as the nurses had done in 1986 their victory is less secure and their gains less real. They haven’t won real equality. They’ve won some pay increases.

In March 1973 – just shy of 40 years ago – the women’s liberation movement published this Manifesto:


Women’s Liberation Newsletter: ‘Women’s Liberation believes that women in our society are oppressed.

– We are economically oppressed: in jobs we do full work for half pay, in the home we do unpaid work full time.

– We are commercially exploited by advertisements, television, and press: legally we often have only the status of children.

– We are brought up to feel inadequate: educated to narrower horizons than men.

This is our specific oppression as women. It is as women that we are, therefore, organising. We demand:

1. That Women Have control Over Their Bodies – We believe that this is denied us until we can decide whether to have children or not and when we have them.

2. The Repeal of Abortion Laws: Abortion on Request – Abortion is an essential part of birth control. Contraception without the right to abortion means that the State, in effect, controls our bodies if we become pregnant unwillingly. Women should have the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

3. Freely Available Contraception – More education on contraception is needed at an early age and, for this to be effective, contraceptives should be easily available and free on social security. Doctors should not have the right to refuse contraception on their own moral grounds.

4. Free 24-hour Community Controlled Child Care – The government should provide full child care facilities throughout Australia. These should be free and staffed by qualified people – men and women. The centres must be under the control of those who use them, to prevent bureaucratic ‘baby dumps’. Women should not have to bear individual responsibility for the care of children.

5. Equal Job Opportunities and an End to Low Pay – Employers have no right to pay women less than men, or to keep women in menial jobs. The government must act to correct this injustice by making it illegal for employers to discriminate against women. Although, at first glance, the equal pay decision in 1972 seems favourable, the full effect of the decision will not become apparent until 1975. In other words, we have been ‘bought off’ until then.

6. Equal Education Opportunities – To enable women to have really equal opportunity, all schools must stop streaming women into ‘service’ jobs which reflect the wife/mother role – cleaners, teachers, nurses, secretaries, social workers – essentially supporting roles. Sexual bias in curricula should be eliminated. The education system must play a large part in undoing the conditioning of women to accept an inferior role, by encouraging women to assert themselves in all fields.

We believe that by united action we can achieve our aims. Women’s Liberation Newsletter, March 1973 pp 5-6

The struggle continues. Many of these demands are still relevant and needed today. They won’t be won by being polite. A militant industrial response from workers and their unions to the systemic gender pay gap has the best chance of improving the lives of women at work.

That is a fight that must of necessity take on the ALP for whom the bosses and their profits are more important than equal pay.

The first step in that process must be for workers in low paid and traditional gender stereotype industries to organise to smash the glass ceiling of low and unequal wages.



Comment from Mary
Time January 7, 2013 at 7:53 am

The view of women and work has undermined the roll of motherhood and today we have far too many unemployable wayward youth causing fear in communities. Is this the result of women working and neglecting their motherhood duties leaving children unsupervised?
What happened to the role of motherhood?
A message to Jenny Macklin and other politicians and bureaucrats who have got it wrong about single mothers-
“Women bringing up small children at home don’t see themselves as unemployed, they see themselves as mothers. The only thing they share with jobless school leavers is that they don’t earn a wage. The equation between unemployment and idleness doesn’t apply to them, they are never idle –they are overworked and underpaid.”Even when women manage to get into the workplace they are undervalued and underpaid by the status quo.
Mary Jenkins
Secretary of Concerned Citizens for Good Governance Inc.

Pingback from Australian Labor government’s low pay agenda for women « Redline
Time January 7, 2013 at 10:36 am

[…] […]

Comment from Jolly
Time January 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm

“Is this the result of women working and neglecting their motherhood duties leaving children unsupervised?” Certainly not. It is more often the lethargic and visionless mothers and FATHERS who contribute to wayward children. Look at suburbs that have a higher proportion of well educated working women and men whose children are mostly well behaved and highly motivated to succeed in school and in adult life. Don’t blame mothers. All mothers work, period. We can’t blame children as they only understand the world from the perspective of the home environment. Parents, both mums and dads, are crucial in raising children. Children’s role models are parents. Values are instilled from birth by parents. Parenting is a rather serious task. We need to be schooled and trained to obtain a driving license yet nothing is required for parenting. I know of unemployed, home bound (TV bound) parents whose children are allowed to roam the streets (in gangs) late at night. I am referring to 10year olds. Sick!! I also know of parents threatening teachers when their wayward kids are disciplined in schools for disruptive behavior in classrooms. Wayward parents produce wayward kids. Please stop blaming just mothers!!

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