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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)



The gender pay gap – an update

An argument has broken out about the graduate gender pay gap. It misses the real point. The gender pay gap for all women, graduates or not, is systemic, and can only be overcome by militant industrial action.

After over 5 years of a Labor government, the gender pay gap is hovering around 17.5%. This is actually higher than under Howard. For example in 2004 the gap was 15%.  Five years of Labor in power has seen it increase by about 2.5% to 17.5% where it now appears to be permanently stuck.

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.

That raises a wider question. What sort of society punishes women for having children, and punishes them so severely economically that their average earnings over a lifetime are at least $1 million on average than men? Perhaps the answer is a society that puts profit before people.

These maternity issues could be addressed by paying working class women a real living wage and superannuation contributions when on maternity leave, by providing free child care, by setting up communal kitchens, by establishing house cleaning brigades and the like. That would mean taxing employers to pay for the benefits they and their female workers receive.

Some of the pay gap difference is structural. Women work in industries such as teaching and nursing which traditionally have been less adequately remunerated because of poor union coverage. Employers, often state governments, think they can appeal to women workers as nurturers to pay them less.

It is 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 restrictions and win major wage rises and better conditions. Nurses in Victoria in 1986 went on strike and after 50 days won all their demands.  The government caved in in the face of determined and militant strike action.

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. Often no award applies.

And even if there is an award, after 3 decades of collaboration with the bosses many unions are not strong enough to police and enforce awards and enterprise agreements. Labor’s restrictive industrial relations laws – WorkChoices Lite – further hamstring unions wanting to enforce pay equity.

The gender pay gap is systemic. The battle for equal pay has to keep being won. The fight has to continue.

The campaign for equal pay in the 1960s was militant, put the issue on the agenda and in 1969 won formal equality. Maybe militancy is the answer to winning equal pay in reality today.


There have been platitudes from Gillard about what Labor did for Social and Community Service (SACS) workers.  There is less to this than meets the eye.

These 150,000 workers, of whom 120,000 are women, won pay increases of between 23 and 45 percent to be phased in over 8 years. Fair Work Australia found their low pay was a consequence of their gender and that they were not receiving equal pay for comparable work to that carried out in non-female dominated industries.

On top of that the workers will receive  the annual wage review increase each year. This is the roughly CPI related wage increase for workers on the minimum wage and those whose wages  are set in relation to it.  The equal pay increases will thus be eroded over time – it is what the phase in is designed to do – and by the fact the CPI increases do not match general wage increase and are often as much as 2% below it.

Further, employers in the SACS sector will push for lesser wage increases in enterprise negotiations to offset the equal pay increase. They will try to limit it normal wage increases to just annual wage review amounts, thus cutting their wages bill by up to 2% a year as mentioned and undermining the equal pay increase.

The Gillard Government has set aside $2.8 billion to fund the increase for its SACS employees and those covered by its funding arrangements. The Liberal States and Territories have not agreed to fund the increase and have tried to limit the cost by sacking SACS staff, getting rid of entitlements and limiting ‘normal’ pay increases to 2.5% or thereabouts.

For example, there are 30,000 SACS workers in NSW. The O’Farrell Liberal Government made no provision in its Budget to cover their equal pay increase. Without that O’Farrell Government funding these workers will not receive the awarded increases in full, and as experience is showing will also pay for it with job losses and entitlement cuts.

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.

Nurses and teachers in various states last year struck or are still fighting against their governments. The nurses in Victoria again were particularly strong and militant and forced a back down from attacks on them by the Baillieu government .

As luck would have it I was reading a Women’s Liberation Manifesto published in March 1973. It argued that women were economically oppressed because they do full work for half pay and in the home do unpaid work fulltime. It called among other things for women’s control over their own bodies, free 24 hour community controlled child care, equal job opportunities and an end to low pay.

Their demands are still relevant and needed today. The fact they haven’t been won shows the issues are systemic and only a massive fight by workers as workers can win equality both in the workplace and societally.

They won’t be won by being polite to bosses and governments whose priorities are profits, not people. 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 and more generally in society.

That is a fight that must of necessity take on the Labor Party government 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 female dominated industries to organise to smash the glass ceiling of low and unequal wages.  That won’t be easy but women workers in the past have done it.

It’s time for a real industrial campaign for equal pay. Don’t be too polite, girls, don’t be too polite.



Comment from Mary
Time January 10, 2013 at 1:55 am

Until men recognise that women should be valued and that means women who are not in the paid workforce but are working full time keeping the home front clean and economically vibrant. Often caring for sick and elderly parents or neighbours, doing volunteer work in schools and charity shops etc. Women have been demoted by men and unions who have done nothing to address the role unpaid women do outside the paid workforce. The underemployed have been neglected as have the unpaid tireless workers in our communities. The recent cut back in single women’s benefits is absolutely disgusting. I tried to get an underemployed and unemployed union going in the 1990’s but had no support from the union movement in WA. In fact they stopped us using their venue for meetings. I did help a few women claim their rights and showed many they have rights but with no financial backing I gave up after a 5 year struggle. Young people and mature men and women do not know their rights and are being exploited by employers especially casual workers. The unions do not fight for them at all. They refused me to speak at May day a few times. They just don’t care.
The mens movement must look to itself and put the reform of men on its political agenda. Until they do nothing will change for women. The equal pay idea has been around so long and it is only tokenism by men they have not acted to change things at all. It suits men to keep women insubordinate to them through economic means.

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