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Labor seeks better deal to bridge pay gap

Labor has called for an overhaul of the equal pay provisions of Fair Work laws, in the wake of evidence showing there has been little progress on bridging the gender pay gap.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek is set to deliver a scathing critique of the gender pay gap in the Kingsley Laffer memorial lecture at the University of Sydney’s Business School on Thursday night.

The gap between the pay of men and women has been stuck between 14 and 19 per cent for the past two decades, under both sides of politics.

The official figure sits at 14.6 per cent, driven in large part by recent minimum wage increases and the Labor-backed social and community care workers wages case.

In the public service, where pay levels are transparent, the gap is 10.5 per cent while for the private sector it’s 18.4 per cent.

However, Ms Plibersek said the recent failure of the equal pay case for early childhood educators had shown equal remuneration laws are not acting effectively to deliver pay increases for women in low-paid industries.

“The President of the Fair Work Commission has acknowledged that there is a ‘lack of coherence around the legislative framework in relation to the gender pay gap’ and highlighted that gender equity isn’t a clear objective of the Act,” she says.

“I would go further. The equal pay provisions of the Fair Work Act as they are currently being interpreted are broken.

“They can’t and won’t deliver the increases in women’s pay that we need to see to close the gender pay gap. It needs to be fixed.”

The commission also needed greater expertise in addressing equal pay.

The key problem was the commission interpreting the Fair Work Act as requiring a male comparator to prove gender-based undervaluation.

Ms Plibersek said experts had long acknowledged that a male comparator may make sense in a like-for-like pay discrimination case.

“But it sets up almost insurmountable barriers when you’re dealing with industry-wide gendered undervaluation.”

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