New FWA ruling: Females are underpaid!

The full bench has handed down yet another controversial decision which impacts thousands of female aged and community care workers.

By Yasmin Noone

Fair Work Australia (FWA) has recognised that women working in the aged care sector are among the thousands of female social and community service (SACS) industry employees currently being underpaid, simply because of their sex.

In a landmark national equal pay case, the full bench of FWA has ruled that women working in the SACS industry are not paid the same as their male counterparts for the same or comparable work.

“In this decision, we have concluded that for employees in the SACS industry, there is not equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal or comparable value by comparison with workers in state and local government employment,” the full bench ruled.

“We consider gender has been important in creating the gap between pay in the SACS industry and pay in comparable state and local government employment.”

The Australian Municipal, Administrative, Clerical and Services Union (ASU) application for equal remuneration has been regarded by many as another step in the fight for total gender pay equality because women form the majority of employees working in the SACS industry and in the health sector overall.

NSW ASU secretary, Sally McManus, said: “This is a great day for women and a great day for community workers. At last we have had the value of our work recognised and everyone is on notice that an increase in wages is on the way.”

The application, initially lodged in March 2010, covers females working in the aged and community care sector who are also members of Health Services Union (HSU), The Australian Workers’ Union of Employees, Queensland (AWU Queensland) and United Voice (UV).

The union’s submission therefore specifically included tasks performed by women in the aged and community care sector in its list of duties that were labeled as having a “female characterisation”. Such caring tasks performed by females, the union claimed, are currently undervalued.

The responding employers varied in their response to the union application for equal pay, with some supporting the claim subject to certain qualifications, while others strongly opposed it.

Employers such as Blue CareLifeline Community Care Queensland and Centacare Brisbane stated that they were in support of the application but said the resulting increases needed to be fully funded by the government.

“Other [employer] concerns included training requirements and costs, occupational health and safety issues, conditions of employment in the disability sector including overtime and unpredictable hours, the lack of favourable employment conditions in comparison to state and local government employment, work related stressors and tensions present in the disability sector and the imposition of social justice standards by government without corresponding funding and recognition of workers,” the decision said.

Aged and Community Services Australia’s acting CEO, Pat Sparrow, said that she holds a similar point of view- that equal pay should be granted for equal work but the government must increase funding.

“If the same test is applied to aged care workers, wages in the sector are lower than those paid to workers in the government sector,” Ms Sparrow said.

“However, aged care providers are dependent on government funding to pay wages – without an increase in that funding it is impossible to fund wage rises for our workers who are highly valued and make a significant contribution to the care and support of more than a million older Australians every day.”

UV assistant national secretary, Sue Lines, said she was pleased with the result thus far but there is still a long way to go before the case reaches an decisive end.

“We are not quite there yet,” said Ms Lines.

“But, what this decision does do is recognise that gender is an issue. What we have to do is settle the rates. That’s the next test.

“It’s a good first step decision…What we need is the dollars to back up the good words.”

Where to from here?

The full bench has not yet ruled whether it will make employers bring their pay rates into line with those workers doing comparable or the same work in the public service.

But, the dFWA ecision said, “…if granted, the order would apply to employees of non-government employers in the SACS industry throughout Australia”.

“And, in order to give effect to the equal remuneration provisions, the proper approach is to attempt to identify the extent to which gender has inhibited wages growth in the SACS industry and to mould a remedy which addresses that situation.”

The ASU is now required to file any further written submissions it wishes  to make by 10 June.

The Commonwealth, as the major funder of the industry, is to file its further written submissions by 30 June and other interested parties are to file their further written submissions by 21 July.

The case is due to be listed for further hearing before the full bench at 10 am on 8, 9 and 10 August in Melbourne.

“In the meantime we encourage the parties to hold discussions about the matters addressed in this decision with a view to reaching agreement on the matters or, at least, narrowing the area of disagreement,” the full bench said.

To read the full decision, click here.

Tags: aged-care, asu, awu-queensland, community-care, equity-pay-case, fair-work-australia, fwa, sacs-industry, social-and-community-service, united-voice,

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