For everyone Tools to achieve substantive gender equality

  • By Renee Mooney
  • This article was published more than 11 months ago.
  • 28 Jul 2023

As a result of sustained campaigning by the union movement, Labor governments in Victoria, and now federally, have enacted progressive laws to address gender inequality. As in any area of social change, law reform is not an end in itself. But it can provide the tools necessary to effect change. Here are some of the tools that union members can now use to promote gender equality at work.

Evidence-based campaigning

In order to effectively identify issues and measure progress, it is vital that we have access to timely and accurate data. An unassuming yet powerful change has been the passing of the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic). This Act requires all public sector employers to prepare Gender Equality Action Plans; conduct audits; and prepare progress reports. It is early days, but this is already generating valuable data to help quantify the extent of the gender-related issues within AEU sectors. 

A key metric is that of the gender pay gap (GPG). GPG is calculated by subtracting average female earnings from average male earnings and then dividing it by average male earnings. According to the Department of Education’s Workplace Gender Audit 2021 Summary Report, there is a GPG of 9.8% in the teaching service. While this is below the overall GPG in Australia (22.8%), given 77% of the teaching workforce identify as female, it is high.

The department attributes this, somewhat euphemistically, to there being a “progression gap” of 9.9%. In plain terms, it means that men are over-represented in higher classifications than women (e.g. 41% of principal class employees are men). 

This data provides a clear, evidence-based rationale for the union to seek measures that address this progression gap and, in turn, the gender pay gap.

This data provides a clear, evidence-based rationale for the union to seek measures that effectively address the gender pay gap.

Special measures

Towards the end of 2022, the Federal Parliament passed the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022, which provides a raft of changes to federal industrial laws. One change that has not attracted a great deal of attention is the ability to seek terms of an enterprise agreement that are “special measures to achieve equality”. Previously, such terms would have been unlawful under the Fair Work Act 2009.

This change recognises that while an enterprise may provide for formal equality, e.g. men and women being paid at the same rate on the same classification, inequality may exist in practice (e.g. the existence of a GPG).

When negotiating enterprise agreements, the AEU and its members will now be able to seek terms that address the existing progression gap leading to the GPG. These could include training, targets, and mentoring and leadership programs for women. As an emerging area, we will be inviting members to contribute ideas.

OHS developments

The Victorian government has started to implement laws and policies to address sexual harassment and work-related gender-based violence as occupational health and safety issues.This follows recommendations made by a Ministerial Taskforce on Workplace Sexual Harassment, established by the former Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt. The accepted recommendations will see WorkSafe provided with an expanded remit to address these issues and resources to carry out their expanded function.

The Victorian government has also proposed new Occupational Health and Safety (Psychological Health) Regulations, which would require public sector employers to identify psychosocial hazards (including sexual harassment); put in place control measures to address the hazards; prepare prevention plans; and report de-identified complaints.

Using the tools at hand

Significant law reform has been enacted to achieve gender equality, and address sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and work-related gender-based violence in the workplace. However, for these reforms to succeed, we must use the tools at hand.

The AEU wants to support members to utilise these mechanisms to improve gender equality within public education. Raising these matters with your local sub-branch, the AEU’s Member Support Centre, your AEU organisers – and raising them at union meetings, conferences and other forums – will help us work collectively to achieve gender equality and fight discrimination, for the benefit of all.

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