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Published: 5 Sep 2014
Women, feminists and supporters turned out in droves for the inaugural Unions NSW Equal Pay dinner at Cockle Bay in Sydney to highlight the fact that the gap between men and women’s pay has actually increased.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the pay gap between what men and women earn over their lifetimes is 18.2 per cent, which is a 20-year high.
Five MUA women – National Women’s Liason Officer Mich-Elle Myers, Communications Officer Ashleigh Telford, DP World wharfie Ronella Silbery, Sydney Ferry workers Natalie MacKenzie and Joy Reed – all attended the evening in a form of protest of the disparity.
Two women from varying backgrounds spoke of their experiences in the workplace and talked about the extra hurdles women are often faced with whether working in a male dominated industry, like the media, or in an undervalued, women dominated job, like the childcare industry. First up was young activist and twitter obsessed Marion Rakosi who harked back to her mother and aunt’s struggles as a way of explaining her own current standing.
Rakosi spoke about how the childcare sector was one of the lowest paid in the country despite requiring qualifications on parity with most trades. She said the fact that the childcare had always been seen as women’s work had played no small part in creating this circumstance.
Journalist and broadcaster Tracey Spicer followed Rakosi and she did not hold back in telling the room what went on behind the scenes in Australia’s biggest newsrooms.
As a blonde woman, she was never afforded the same amount of respect as her male counterparts, Spicer said. Her looks became a part of her and (mainly) male producers would not hesitate how to improve her appearance with one going as far as to tell her ‘to stick her tits out’.
She also described how she was treated when she became pregnant and expected not to return to work, only to return to hostility. As she explained much of this sexism occurred in the 80s and 90s, however women had still not achieved anything close to equality in the media world, she said pointing to the fact there are very few women in leadership positions, particularly in TV and radio.
Mich-Elle Myers said it was incredible that that no matter the industry the treatment of women was almost the same across the board.
“It’s just cemented my resonance to fight for pay inequality until it’s no longer an issue,” Myers said.
“With the current gap women, have to work an extra 67 days to earn the same amount as men.
The record high gap is also expected to blow out by a further 2 per cent under the Government’s proposed changes to workplace laws due before the Senate this week.
ACTU President Ged Kearney said women face particular risk of being exploited under Individual Flexible Arrangements (IFAs), which are a key part of the Abbott Government’s Fair Work Amendment Bill.
“These arrangements are individual contracts that let employers use women’s caring responsibilities against them by forcing them to trade off penalty rates for the ability to pick up their child in time from childcare, for example.
“Now the Government wants to go even further by making employees sign a statement that will mean they can’t get compensation if they’ve been underpaid as a result of trading off entitlements under an unfair agreement.
“Currently it’s the employer’s responsibility to make sure the employee is better off overall on an individual contract, but the Government is trying to change the law so workers must sign a statement that puts the responsibility on them – not their employer.”
Ms Kearney said the proposed changes to these individual agreements are very similar to the highly unpopular Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) introduced under Workchoices.