Feel like a pay rise? Chances are you probably deserve one.

Feel like a pay rise? Well chances are you probably deserve one.

Women in Australia are paid on average 17.5 per cent less than men.

As one commentator put it on Twitter, it’s equivalent to working for free from 3.45 pm every work day while the guy sitting at the desk over from you keeps on earning.

It’s not just that women are more likely to be paid less than men for doing exactly the same job, but also that male-dominated industries tend to pay more.

This is even though the industries women are more likely to work in, like health and education, are just as important to our society and arguably more so.

We know all of this because Australian businesses are required by law to publicly provide information about how many women they employ and how much women are paid compared to their male colleagues.

But the federal government wants to change the rules, in what can only be seen as an attempt to conceal rather than fix Australia’s shameful gender pay gap.

The government’s draft plans include completely exempting businesses with less than 1,000 employees from the reporting requirements.

That means, 95 per cent of businesses would be able to effectively ignore gender equality.

And for the remaining 5 per cent (the 700 businesses that employ more than 1,000 people), the government plans to ask for less information, and to allow even that small amount of data to be kept confidential.

What we’ll be left with is a keyhole look into working conditions for Australian women, which only shows selected information about how women in very large companies are tracking. Oh, and only when the company chooses to make that public.

The natural result is that big companies that are doing well on gender equality will want their data made public and the ones that are paying women less will want to keep that information to themselves.


So it will be a completely skewed view of the problem that hides the worst cases.

Not only is this utterly inequitable but the government is shooting itself in the foot economically.

Increasing workplace participation for women has the potential to unlock billions of dollars in untapped productivity and creativity.

So why is the government intent on winding back efforts to achieve equal pay?

Senator Larissa Waters

Business representatives say the requirements mean too much paperwork for them to deal with.

But this is basic human resources data that companies should already have and it’s only required once a year.

And small businesses (with less than 100 employees) are already exempt.

We need to get our priorities right. Is avoiding some paperwork really more important than progressing equal pay?

Unfortunately, we have only one woman in our federal Cabinet now: the assistant Minister for Women doesn’t describe herself as a feminist; and the Minister for Finance says equal representation of women in the Parliament is a “side issue”.

So it’s really not surprising that the Abbott government is set on putting big businesses’ every demand before representing women.

We’ll be doing all we can to fight this backward step on gender equity in the Parliament, and we hope you can too in your workplace and your community.

Standing together, we can’t be ignored, and we can continue to break that glass ceiling, which women in the workforce still face today, rather than letting the government double-glaze it.

Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson for Women.