Today, 28 August, is Equal Pay Day, the day which marks the day when men could stop working for the rest of the year and still earn the same amount on average per year as women. The extra 59 days represent a 14% gender pay gap in Australia for full-time work.
One of the reasons that the pay gap is so high is that women are more likely to work in sectors which are undervalued. Feminised work includes caring work, healthcare work, childcare, social work, education and food preparation. Why is this work undervalued? Because it’s done largely by women.
This Equal Pay Day, we wanted to share a story of how an entire sector of working women fought and won equal pay.
For decades, workers in the social and community services, such as disability carers, social workers, youth workers and homelessness support workers have been working at extremely low pay rates for long hours just to make ends meet. Over 80% of workers in this sector are women. These workers provide essential services that our communities rely on.
When compared to jobs at a similar skill level in male-dominated industries, these workers were missing out on up to $20,000 a year, and far more over the course of their working lives.
In 2009, a union of community service workers in Queensland ran a pay equity case, arguing that the pay rates for the sector were far too low. And they won! This was a moment of hope, and galvanisation, for community services workers around the country.
The Australian Services Union launched a campaign for equal pay. Tens of thousands of community workers mobilised around the country, having conversations about equal pay in their workplaces. They hit the streets for a national day of protest, one of the biggest rallies for equal pay in Australia’s history. They held flash mobs in front of Parliament House to draw attention to the issue.
Critics told these workers that they would never win; that they were asking for too much money, and that it would just never happen.
But they won. In 2012, the Fair Work Commission ruled that pay rates in the sector were far too low due to gender discrimination. Pay increases were put in place that over several years would raise wages by 19-41%. The Australian Government created a $2.8 billion fund to subsidise the pay increases.
For women in this sector, these pay increases made a huge difference to their lives, and they were able to afford to stay in the sector and continue doing the work that they love.
Save Equal Pay
Community services jobs are currently at risk once again as the wage supplement put in place runs out. This could lead to huge job losses for women, and a reduction in the services that community non-government organisations will be able to provide.
The ASU is running a campaign to Save Equal Pay, and you can support it by signing the petition here: https://saveequalpay.com/
Let’s take inspiration from all of those workers who fought for, and won, equal pay back in 2012. Women’s work is essential, worthwhile, and worth paying for.