3.37pm | March 08, 2021



SUBJECTS: International Women’s Day, Gender pay gap, Paid domestic violence leave.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Senator, thanks very much for your time. Let's go through a few aspects of your plan, including beginning with, you want to make it no longer legal for employers to stop people saying how much they are paid. Talk to us about this – talk… talk to us about this change, could it create an aspect where people are pressured to tell other people what they are earning?
SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Tom, first of all, can I just say happy International Women's Day to all your viewers. It's a bittersweet day. I think it's been a tough week for a lot of Australian women. We've had to deal with some pretty horrendous stories coming through into the public debate. But today is a day to think about how far we've come and how much more there is to do, and I'm very grateful that your program is putting a spotlight on the pay gap, because that is a very important piece of the puzzle.
You asked about pay secrecy. Most importantly, we need to have some transparency around this. If a woman wants to have a conversation with a colleague about how much she gets paid, how much he gets paid for the same kind of role, we can't have contractual requirements that prevent that conversation from taking place. If a woman wants to raise that kind of question with some of her colleagues and say, “listen, I don't think it's fair”; if their union wants to raise that issue on that woman's behalf, we can't have contractual clauses that prohibit that. And that's what this amendment is about - is just allowing a conversation to take place in workplaces about whether what people are being paid is fair, and truly representative of the value that they bring to that company.
CONNELL: Do you hope that it does actually create some pressure that - that if a man and a woman are in roles that are very similar, and the woman says, “Hey, I couldn't get a pay rise? How did you go this year?”, and both of them know this legislation is in place, are you hoping that there's a bit of a push effect there?
MCALLISTER: Actually, experience overseas is that having the pay gap made public does provide an incentive for companies to get their act together and start dealing with the pay gap. And that matters at a macro level. It matters if the company and the (?) workers at a company know that there's a really big or really small pay gap in their own company. It also matters at an individual level, as you observe. So for a female worker, being able to actually go to an employer and say, “Hey, I noticed that all the men on my floor get paid 10% more than me, can we explain why that would be?” It's a really important conversation. And we want to be able to have an open dialogue about these issues in Australian workplaces. I think employers want to do the right thing. But I don't think we can rely on employers alone. We need everybody in the workplace to be able to take part in the conversation.
CONNELL: So just on that taking part in I mean, you mentioned the sort of macro aspect, which - which, you know, means it's a case of publishing data overall, and being able to compare the gender pay gap, wouldn't - is that perhaps a better idea? Because if you have that in place, a woman knows overall, there's a gender pay gap at that company, again, at that micro level, though, couldn't it be pretty uncomfortable if people are just private by nature, and they say, you know, a man says to a woman who might be their friend and colleague “sorry, I don't want to tell you what I'm getting paid”.
MCALLISTER: I don't think we're asking for anyone to be compelled to disclose their pay. But what we are asking for is for women to be able to talk about it openly at work, and to be able to have an open conversation without legal repercussions. That’s different to mandating that everybody's pay be released all the time. But we don't want impediments in place for women being able to talk about their own pay.
CONNELL: Alright, just addressing another aspect of this as well: oft cited in this data is time out of a career by a woman who has children - it might be a period where she's not working at all, or it might be part time. Do you accept that can have a difference that there could be two people in the same role. One of them, though, just happens to have a lot more recent experience at that company, as a result will be on higher wage, do you find that acceptable?
MCALLISTER: The data that we have about the pay gap says this: it says that the number one reason that women earn less overall, is flat out discrimination. They are simply not being paid as much for their contribution as their male peers.
The second reason is that women tend to work in lower paid industries and jobs. And so women tend to occupy the roles where they are valued less. And you talked earlier in your presentation about how that manifests itself in childcare and some of the caring professions.
The third area, as you just pointed out, is time out from the workforce. And we do need to adjust our policy settings so that women are able to more easily participate in work. That's why, for example, Labor has prioritised childcare. We just know that childcare is a really big impediment to women doing the kind of work and the number hours that they want to do, because childcare in Australia is terribly expensive.
CONNELL: Isn't a big one, too, choice and a cultural element here - is Labor doing anything about the fact that still there is, I would suggest that, you know, an expectation within workplaces, that if we've got a heterosexual couple, the man will take a short period of time, and the woman will take longer off, and perhaps the employer of the man, if he says, I want six months or a year off, might raise their eyebrows. Is that a problem? And would you do anything about that?
MCALLISTER: I think that you're right that there is still an expectation that Australian women will do most of the caring. I mean, we know that because that is what the data suggests is happening at the moment. I think it's fair to assume that that's what employers are also thinking when they're thinking about their male and female workers. I would like a more open conversation about care. And I make this observation. I see a lot of younger men who dearly want to be part of their children's lives, who want the opportunity to spend time at home with the young kids, and who actually would really like it if we were able to have a more open social conversation about how we share these roles out. It's a source of real pleasure to me, actually, to see more and more young men are electing to take longer periods away from work, so that they can develop a really close relationship with their children. I think that'll be good for men, it will be good for women, and it will be good for Australian families.
CONNELL: You cited what you suggest is the second biggest issue behind the gender pay gap. And that is industries women are in, they are paid less as a sort of perhaps an historical sort of element. So what about one: childcare. You took a policy to the last election of increasing pay for childcare workers. Will you take one of the next election?
MCALLISTER: We know that the caring sector is the area where women are most likely to be underpaid. And when Labor was last in government, the union that represents workers in the social services area went to the Fair Work Commission and applied for a pay increase. 
What we're announcing today is a process where the Fair Work Commission explicitly takes account of the undervaluation of women's work when they're looking at questions around pay in particular areas. You know, one of the things that seems to happen is that some of the lowest paid industries are in care work. And I think it's no coincidence that these are sectors where women are doing work that looks like the kind of work that they might do for free at home. We need to address that and we need to make sure that when the Fair Work Commission is looking at this, it's really clear that historic undervaluation of work that's been done by women can be addressed when it's considering all the factors that go into a pay increase.
CONNELL: Jenny McAllister, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you.
MCALLISTER: Yeah. Thanks for having me on.