Pay Equity IR Case Undermines Real Gender Equity Challenge
13 April 2011
At a time when serious issues of gender and workplace equity are being dealt with by multiple inquiries into the Australian Defence Force Academy, the cause of gender equality is being devalued by a trade union test case in the new industrial relations tribunal, Fair Work Australia (FWA).
In the name of ‘pay equity’, unions are seeking substantial wage rises to wage rates in the not for profit community services sector, despite the same tribunal having declared these wage awards as ‘modernised’ only a year ago.
The claim is potentially precedent setting, forcing Australia’s largest and most representative business organisation the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) to intervene to seek limits on wage arbitration under the Gillard Government’s fair work system.
Speaking after the close of final submissions before a FWA Full Bench in Melbourne yesterday, ACCI Chief Executive Peter Anderson said that the union claim was ill conceived and lacked merit, and should be dismissed if wage arbitration and wages policy more broadly is to maintain rigour.
“The union claim relies almost entirely on a Queensland case that would never have ever got up under federal wage principles set by successive national tribunals since equal pay was first introduced in 1972.”
“ACCI and employers strongly support gender equity, equal opportunity and equal pay. Unfortunately this case has dressed up the old and discredited comparative wage justice argument in the new guise of equal pay.
“The pay rates in these awards make no distinction between male or female workers and haven’t done so for a generation. Ample opportunities existed over 25 years for unions to make claims for work value reassessment or to rectify anomalies or inequities. None were pursued. The awards were modernised in an extensive way as soon as the Gillard government’s fair work system came into being in 2009 with the current rates being set. Nothing’s changed, except a desire by unions to stretch the wage system and its equity objectives.”
“Gender equality is not well served by testing the boundaries of new systems of regulation. Simply because an industry or sub sector has a majority female labour force or is paid less than different industries or occupations is no reason alone for wage rises to be granted. This would lead to untenable wage leap-frogging, and be the antithesis of a system of enterprise based wage and productivity bargaining.
The case involved more than 45 parties, about 15 sitting days, 22 site inspections and reports, 167 exhibits and thousands of pages of transcript. It involves claims variously estimated to involve wage increases of up to 50% at an estimated annual cost in excess of $8 billion dollars.”
“The case has been a field day for barristers. Hundreds of hours of time and resource would have sustained community services but have been exhausted on a case that really boils down to a union fight with governments over more funding for the not-for-profit sector. Industrial tribunals, with all the flow in risks and implications, are no places to have those fights” Mr Anderson said.
ACCI was represented in this week’s Full Bench hearings by Workplace Relations and Legal Affairs Manager Daniel Mammone. A decision has been reserved.