You can’t talk about insecure work without talking about gender. This is what Julie Kun, Deputy CEO of the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) will be telling the Victorian Government Inquiry into Labour and Insecure Work¹ on 9 February 2016.
WIRE says that women in Australia are more vulnerable to insecure work, financial insecurity and as a result, poverty. This is due to pervasive structural and cultural gender discrimination in the workplace and in leadership, and entrenched social expectations that women be unpaid carers in the family and community.
“It is a myth that women choose insecure and badly paid work. Women do not choose unemployment and the stress of not knowing when their next shift will be,” said Julie Kun. “Women do not choose poverty.”
Despite female university graduates outnumbering male graduates every year², women graduates start their working careers on a back foot with lower starting pays compared to male peers³ – simply because they are women. The difference in pay, promotion and leadership opportunities increases between women and men as their career progresses.
Australia’s gender pay gap of 17.9%⁴ continues to widen, even in women-dominated industries such as the health and aged care sector. In some industries, the gender pay gap is as much as 30%⁵. No wonder women only have a third of the superannuation⁵ that men have, and that an increasing cohort of older women find themselves impoverished and even homeless in retirement⁷.
“Only 3% of families have mothers who work full-time, and a father who is at home or works part-time⁸,” Ms Kun said.
Unlike men, women are often forced to leave secure work to take on caring responsibilities, and later struggle to re-enter the workforce. To get paid work, many women take significant pay cuts and make do with casual or low paying insecure part-time work. Women juggling caring responsibilities and career often give up pay, conditions and promotion opportunities for a modicum of workplace flexibility. For most men, caring responsibilities are not even considered as an issue during business hours.
“My partner negotiated part-time work so he could look after our child, and people think he’s weird,” said part-time worker Judy. “I also work part-time to care for our child, and that is considered normal.”
WIRE is calling on the Victorian government to recognise women’s disproportionate vulnerability to insecure work and act immediately in the following ways:
- Victorian government procurement policy to stipulate that all government contractors must provide their staff access to family violence entitlements.
- The Victorian government models the gender equality we want to see across all of Victoria for example having 50% of cabinet ministers being women.
- Victorian government to develop a Best Practice: Family and Work Life Balance Manual for all employers and unions.
- Actively campaign for men to play more active roles in family care, and for employers to encourage men to take up flexible work practices to accommodate their caring responsibilities.
- Victorian Government to promote gender equity workplace strategies such as quotas for senior positions, salary tracking, and compulsory reporting on employers’ gender equity plans.
- All policy and legislation developed by the Victorian government to be assessed for suitability through a gender lens.
- Address the gender pay gap by funding pay increases in undervalued female-dominated industries.
- Government or employer pays superannuation to carers when they are on parental leave.
- Put legislation and measures in place to ensure that exploitative labour hire practices are stopped.
For more information about the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange visit the WIRE website at www.wire.org.au or call 1300 134 130. You can also visit WIRE’s Women’s Information Centre at 372 Spencer St, West Melbourne.
1. WIRE’s submission to the Victorian Government Inquiry into Labour and Insecure Work (February 2016)
2. Gender gap widens as women graduates outpace the men, Sarah Martin, The Australian (August 17, 2015)
3. More women graduate than men but women still getting lower starting pay, Tim Dodd, The Australian Financial Review (Feb 16, 2015)
4. & 5. Gender Pay Gap statistics, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (September 2015)
6. Australia’s superannuation system unfair to women, Peter Martine, The Age (Aug 25, 2015)
7. Widowed, divorced, all alone: older women in poverty crisis, Trent Dalton, The Australian (Oct 16, 2015)
8. The Wife and Times, Manne Anne, The Monthly (November 2014)