Pay Gap Focus is too Narrow

Originally Published in The West Australian
Monday, October 16, 2023

by Rikki Hendon, CPSU/CSA Branch Secretary

There are pros and cons to living in the “Wait Awhile” State. On one hand, we West Australians are proudly laidback.
We do things our own way, at our own pace.
When it comes to pay equity, however, WA women are waiting far too long.
You may recall National Equal Pay Day this year was on August 25.
It marked the 56 extra days Australian women had to work to earn the same, on average, as men did over the previous financial year.
In true “Wait Awhile” form, it has taken until last Friday for WA women to reach the same undesirable milestone.
That’s a whopping 105 days — or 15 weeks — after the end of the financial year and a full seven weeks longer than the national average.
WA boasts the worst gender pay gap in the country, which the most recent available figures place at 21.4 per cent.
The WA Government’s approach to dealing with this has been frustratingly narrow and focused particularly on the lack of women in high-paying industries such as construction and mining.
Initiatives announced on International Women’s Day, for example, were aimed at encouraging more women to enter and stay in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Perhaps conveniently, it centres responsibility for solving the gender pay gap problem with private industry and ignores the elephant in the room: that, for the past six years, the McGowan Government actively suppressed the wages growth of its own 158,000-strong, 73 per cent female, State public sector workforce via restrictive pay rise caps.
The WA public sector works for you. Public sector workers keep our families safe, support our children at school, care for us when we’re sick, assist us through crises and ensure our diverse economy is thriving and supported.
They are the backbone of our State.
Yet, as revealed by the Public Sector Alliance in August, their wages have gone backwards in real terms by, on average, about 12 per cent since 2017.
It is little wonder that the sector is now struggling to attract and retain skilled workers in a range of occupations and locations to deliver the services we all rely on. The current Public Sector Wages Policy Review provides the new Cook Government the opportunity to reset wage discussions with the public sector.
CPSU/CSA members are set to meet with government representatives this week to share their experiences of the hurt caused by restrictive wages caps and advocate a return to genuine bargaining that enables real wages growth.
We won’t fix WA’s gender pay gap by accepting that the construction and mining industries have high-paying jobs while feminised industries are left behind.
We will do it by valuing and respecting the critical work — overwhelmingly performed by women — that keeps our State going, through thick and thin.
It’s time for the new Cook Government to seize this moment for genuine collaboration and consultation on public sector wages and rid us of the dubious honour of being Australia’s gender pay gap “Wait Awhile” State.
Rikki Hendon is the branch secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association