The University of Melbourne, already embroiled in a firestorm over staff cuts in key faculties, has been denied a place on a Federal Government equal opportunity list designed to promote the advancement of women.

The University was included on the influential Employer of Choice for Women list from 2002 to 2008, but was stripped of its status this year after it failed to meet prescribed pay equity measures.

Pay equity is the difference between salaries for women and men at equivalent occupational levels within an institution. Under official Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency guidelines, the gender differential in similar jobs must be lower than 17.2 per cent.

Under federal government legislation, non-government institutions employing more than 100 staff are required to report annually on their equity program. However, applications to be included on the prestigious EoCW list are voluntary.

A University spokesperson, Christina Buckridge, said the University failed to submit an application when it realised the equity threshold wouldn’t be reached. She blamed the “recruiting patterns of the 1970s” for the failure to make it on to the list, alluding to a greying army of 60-something male academics whose locked-in salary agreements compare favourably with younger female staff.

“The University is disappointed that it cannot fit the EoWA criteria in 2009,” Buckridge added, also blaming “natural attrition” for the discrepancy. “Peaks and troughs” among the 9,000-strong staff base meant the pay equity measure was contingent from year to year, an explanation seemingly at odds with the University’s seven straight years of previous success.

In 2007, the University was keen to spruik its gender equity record via propaganda sheet UniNews.

The president of the National Tertiary Education Union’s University of Melbourne branch, Ted Clark, told Crikey that the University’s exclusion was “a damning omission”, calling the official explanation “ludicrous”.

“Despite any apparent historical successes, the University should be able to meet basic equity targets”, Clark said. “The University usually prides itself on its equity regime, and this is a surprising revelation indeed.”

Sixty-four per cent of the University’s general staff are women, but women make up only 41 per cent of its academic staff, Clark said.

There are a range of prerequisites for admission onto the EoCW list, including a minimum of 6 weeks paid maternity leave, allowing female managers to work part-time, and maintaining a proportion of female managers greater than 28 per cent, or the industry average. The University would only admit to failing to meet the pay equity measure.

The University’s Victorian rivals La Trobe University, Monash University and Deakin University have been prominent fixtures on the list for at least 4 years and all featured in its 2009 incarnation. Equivalent sandstone institutions, including The University of Queensland, have a patchier record.

One possible explanation for the pay disparity was recent bonuses paid to mostly-male staff members in the Economics and Commerce faculty. The bonuses were apparently designed to prevent senior staff jumping ship for a well-paid career in investment banking, an employment option that has now evaporated.

Peter Fray

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