Above: PM Julia Gillard
By Yasmin Noone
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has used the annual NSW Labor Conference to remind Australia’s Liberal state governments to do the right thing by social and community workers, and publically commit to funding ‘their share’ of compulsory sector-wide wage increases.
The PM’s renewed call for state support comes as good news to employers in the social and community services (SACS) sector which, in the absence of increased government funding, would have to fund compulsory wage increases of up to 45 per cent themselves, as of December this year.
Speaking at the NSW Labor Conference in Sydney on Sunday, Ms Gillard confirmed that her government – as one of the major employers of SACS workers – remains committed to meeting ‘its share’ of costs associated with SACS wage increases, and called on state governments, as fellow employers, to do the same.
“The Federal Government now expects state and territory governments to meet their obligations and commit their share of funds,” Ms Gillard said, as Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Community Services and the Status of Women, and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.
“Employees in our social and community sectors work in some of the most challenging of jobs such as counselling families in crisis, running homeless shelters, working with people with disabilities and with victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
“These employees make a real difference to lives of some of our most vulnerable community members and they deserve to be properly rewarded for their efforts.”
Sector-wide pay increases are the result of a landmark full bench Fair Work Australia (FWA) decision in February, which found that the majority of SACS sector workers are underpaid because they perform feminised ‘caring’ duties that are undervalued by employers.
On June 22, FWA issued its final Social, Community and Disability Services Industry Equal Remuneration Order 2012 which made it compulsory for all SACS employers to bridge the pay gap between male and female workers in the sector via pre-determined pay increases, phased in over eight years.
As previously reported by AAA, most state and territory governments (parties to the application) initially supported or opposed the original Australian Services Union application to FWA to increase SACS wages, according to party lines.
All Labor governments backed the PM’s support for and the federal government/union’s joint submission to the case, while all Liberal state government’s opposed the application. For example, both the Victorian and NSW governments’ submission stated that it could not afford wage increases which could total over a billion dollars.
The full-bench however recognised that although some state governments opposed the application, no government specifically indicated that it would be unable to fund its share.
Currently, the average full-time wage for social and community service workers is $46,000.
The SACS ERO will impact around 120 000 female workers which makes up 80 per cent of the sector-wide workforce.
According to the Equal Remuneration Order (ERO), wage increase levels are dependant on award classifications, with those sitting on higher award levels entitled to a higher percentage increase.
However, the ERO allows wage increases can be absorbed into overaward payments, thereby excluding those employers who already pay wages equal to or exceeding the rates determined by the recent ERO.
“Nothing in this Order requires an employer to maintain or increase any overaward payment,” the ERO states.
The PM’s NSW colleagues, Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services, Barbara Perry, and Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and Women, Sophie Cotsis, also shone a spotlight on the SACS cause, issuing a press release on Sunday that echoed the PM’s sentiments.
“The O’Farrell Government has broken its promise to give community and social service workers equal pay in NSW,” Ms Perry said in the statement.
“Premier O’Farrell is the only thing now standing between NSW community and social sector workers and a long overdue wage increase.
“The Commonwealth has put up the cash for this long awaited wage increase, announcing it will fund the $3 billion needed to pay for its fair share of the equal pay case.
“Meanwhile, Mr O’Farrell’s recent State Budget failed to allocate any funding for equal pay over the forward estimates.
Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and Women, Sophie Cotsis said: “If the Premier cared about closing the 18 per cent pay gap between men and women, he would fund this equal pay case.”
The recent FWA decision will affect workers employed under the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010 (SACS Modern Award).
Up-to-date information on the government’s commitment to pay its share of the Fair Work Australia decision is available on its website