Equal Pay – Why Is It No longer On The Agenda?

I threw my hat in the ring this week to be candidate for my area for a major party in the upcoming elections.

We don’t know the date yet but it is fair to expect the PM to set one soon and late November is in frame.

So, apart from brushing up on the constitution and related documents on the web I started asking friends and family what were the issues that concerned them.

My sister, always on the money for her demographic suggested that equality of pay is still an issue and arguably more of an issue than ever.

Why? I thought equality has been legislated and discrimination is punished legally and socially.

Well, on consideration there is a little depth to this assertion. For example the average marrying age has moved back. Maybe because less are getting married at all – sure. But same goes for when people have their first child, it is getting much later.

So the old adage of women leaving the workforce to have children drives lower wages is failing even more than it did originally, particularly in the last 5-10 years with up to 10 years being added to ‘first half’ careers – ie the time before women stop to have their first child.

A wide range of other aspects are also increasing this perspective.

Women are increasingly deciding not to ever have children due to a combination of person choice (or their partner’s) and also to a significant but lesser extent infertility on their or their partners behalf.

It is also widely accepted to be gay now too although this clearly no long seems to preclude the adoption of children or having their own through scientifically assisted means. Frankly while a trendy topic I think the numbers involved here wrt gays having children would have minimal impact on this particular debate.

Personally, I suspect the average gay female wage would be closer to the average male wage for just about every industry and geographic area. This is a topic in itself for separate debate I might do another blog on so lets not divert our attention for now and remain focused on at least 50% of the entire population for now.

Of course we can not ignore the recent bump representing not a child but a rise in the number of children being born – while good it is still a short term trend so the assertion holds that women are time wise capable of and typically are actually working in paid employment much more relative to say 10 years ago.

So is this concern about equal pay valid? If people think it is an issue then of course it is one and it is valid but I’d like to see more structured and facts applied to the debate.

I particularly think we need to explore two avenues –

– research on the perception from women (working or not) mainly but also from men and separately from employers to see it this really is a political issue people care about

– research on the facts – commercial industry surveys and independent collation of hard salary and full package benefits by gender, industry and location to see if this equality is material

With that ammunition, the decision is then to decide is this an issue worth opening up to wider political debate because –

– it may or not be ‘winnable’ – i.e. what can be gained politically from reiterating an existing issue (I try not to shy away from issues on that feeble premise – winnable or not a debate usually enlightens all).

– it may not be ‘fixable’ – I reiterate we already have the non-discrimination legislation – do we now need cultural change supported by industry or government (a tough one really)

I am sure this is a topic of interest to women and also to most men for a wide variety of reasons but just how much do we care, and what can we do or what should we try to do?

I suspect it comes second to freedom of speech, having a roof over your head and food to eat and clothes on your back, probably even clean air to breath and water to drink. But after that it will be interesting to really see where it fits in our collective priorities – particularly if the pay gap is small and shrinking (albeit probably not fast enough).

I’d like to open it up for comment.

Cheers, Peter.

Sydney august 17, 2007.

Postscript: Didn’t end up being the candidate for my electorate. A nice local guy by the name of Jim got the job (but I did make the short list of two) I wish him well.