Despite significant progress increasing women’s workforce participation in recent decades, there remain significant challenges facing women in the workplace.
The persistent gender pay gap between men and women is 17.3 per cent and women working across all industries take home on average $277.70 a week less than men.
A Shorten Labor Government is committed to measures that will address the glaring gender pay gap in Australia.
One way to address the gender pay gap is through services that support vulnerable women with information and advice about their status at work.
Working Women’s Centres (WWC) in Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory have provided such services since 1994.
A Shorten Labor Government will fund these three centres to continue the outstanding work they do in those communities.
Why are we doing this?
The 2014 G20 Summit acknowledged that one of the world's most significant barriers to global economic growth is the persistently low level of women's participation in the workforce compared with men.
Labor is committed to ensuring Australia meets the new target set at that Summit to increase women’s workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025.
The Grattan Institute estimates that if Australia had the same female workforce participation rate as Canada, Australia’s GDP would be about $25 billion greater.
To meet the G20 gender participation target of increasing participation by 25 per cent by 2025, we need to create an additional 300,000 jobs for women in Australia.
Women experience particular issues that impact on their ability to participate in or maintain connection with the workforce. These issues are well documented, and include:
• Pay inequity: women make up 42 per cent of the workforce but earn 17.3 per cent less than men. Women are earning less on average than men than they were 20 years ago.
• Sexual harassment: 1 in 4 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
• The Australian workforce is highly gender segregated: women continue to be concentrated in health, education and retail sectors, with these industries traditionally offering lower pay and less security than male-dominated industries. Women are more likely to work part-time or casual, are more likely to be award reliant, and less likely to be unionised.
• Discrimination: women continue to experience gender-based discrimination in the workplace. 1 in 2 mothers reported experiencing workplace discrimination as a result of their pregnancy, parental leave or on returning to work, while 1 in 5 mothers were made redundant, restructured, dismissed or not renewed.
• Domestic violence: nearly a third of Australian workers report having experienced domestic violence, which can impact on women’s job security, attendance and performance.
• Unpaid care and workplace flexibility: women undertake the majority of the unpaid caring work– most commonly caring for children and elderly parents, and also face a lack of workplace flexibility to accommodate these roles.
Working Women’s Centres
WWCs have a record of delivering services to vulnerable women.
Not only do the WWCs provide specialist advice and advocacy, they also produce educational materials, deliver community education sessions and provide advice to government on a range of female workforce issues.
If the WWCs closed at the conclusion of the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s funding at the end of the year there would be no free, specialist employment advice service for vulnerable women in the Northern Territory, South Australia or Queensland, and an established voice on systemic gendered employment issues would be lost.
This would leave more than 9,000 workers without advice every year, and would end up costing the tax payer more with unrepresented people needing greater support from the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Fair Work Commission. Fewer women would secure their rightful entitlements, with flow on effects for the ongoing economic security of female employees and their families.
These services provide excellent value for taxpayer’s money: at around $144 per client.
The WWCs services are targeted towards vulnerable women who have neither the means nor capacity to access assistance elsewhere. These services are relied upon by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women with a disability, and women who live in regional and remote areas.
What is Labor’s proposal?
A Shorten Labor Government will continue to support funding for the WWCs that are currently operating in South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
The Centres will be funded for a further two years until 2018-19. This will complement funding that is provided by each of the State and Territory Governments.
Labor will require the WWCs to be evaluated for effectiveness, outcomes and value for money. This evaluation will build on a previous review conducted by the Fair Work Ombudsman into the need for and provision of Community-Based Employment Advice Services, which found WWCs:
“are an essential link in the chain of maintaining employment standards. In practice they are treated as such by government bodies that regularly refer workers to them. Their interdependence in the system should be formally recognised and their visibility improved.”
The proposal to continue funding for the WWCs means that their services will continue to target vulnerable women who have neither means nor capacity to access assistance elsewhere.
By providing funding for the Working Women’s Centres, women who encounter work related issues such as discrimination, sexual harassment, or termination of employment will receive free, specialist advice and advocacy.
Labor’s Plan to Support Working Women
Labor will provide $3.8 million to fund the Centres to the end of 2018-19 financial year. At the end of the 2018-19 financial year a further funding decision will be based on the evaluation.
This means that thousands of vulnerable women all around the country will continue to be supported with advice and advocacy.
The funding will be provided through the Community Engagement Grants Program announced in the 2016/17 Budget. The remaining funds from the Program will remain with the Fair Work Ombudsman to provide other community-based employment advice services with funding on a needs basis. That funding will be met from within existing resources of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Labor has a proud record of fighting for women’s equality, particularly pay equality. In 2009 Labor backed equal pay for social and community sector workers.
We are strongly defending penalty rates against Malcolm Turnbull and more than 60 of his Liberal-National colleagues who are on the public record advocating for cuts.
Labor passed the Workplace Gender Equality Act in 2012 which established the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and requires that employers report against Gender Equality Indicators. The aim of collecting this information is to assess gender equality in the workplace and give employers the opportunity to consider their practices and outcomes in comparison with their industry peers. We delivered paid parental leave supporting more than 730,00 families so they don’t have to make the difficult choice between time with their new baby and covering all the bills. We will protect this scheme from Liberal Government cuts that would affect up to 80,000 families, leaving them up to $11,800 worse off. We also delivered affordable, flexible and high quality child care so working parents have a real choice and better care for their children.
A Shorten Labor Government announced in November 2015 it will make domestic and family violence leave a universal workplace right, to further support those suffering family and domestic violence in our community.
Abbott-Turnbull Government’s Record
The Abbott-Turnbull Government has done nothing to address the gender pay gap and build fair working conditions. They have:
• Stepped away from their responsibility to fund wage increases for social and community sector workers.
• Axed a $300 million fund to give pay rises to childcare workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
• Driven an unfair and ideological bargain in dealing with the public service which disproportionately affects the pay and conditions of women, including cuts to work-family friendly provisions such as domestic violence leave.
• Froze the increase of the Superannuation Guarantee and cut the Low Income Superannuation Contribution in the 2014 Budget.
• Opposed family violence leave because it would deter employment of women.
Malcolm Turnbull and his government want to cut penalty rates. But a cut to penalty rates is a cut to pay, and that means workers are worse off.
There are up to 4.5 million workers who rely on penalty rates, the majority of whom are women. Workers like police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, retail workers, hospitality workers, workers in manufacturing, in tourism and many other sectors.
This is going to have a particular impact on working women. Traditionally women are overrepresented in the lower paying industries, which rely on penalty rates.
The Abbott-Turnbull Government has only provided funding for these Centres until the end of the year before defunding them. That is consistent with the Liberals’ approach to employment and women.
 Totals may not sum due to rounding