A Parliamentary inquiry headed up by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard is preparing to recommend a series of industrial relations reforms to close the wage gap between men and women.

According to The AFR:

Expected recommendations from the committee include tougher powers for Fair Work Australia to rule on gender pay inequality, more obligations on business to disclose the number of women at senior levels and their pay compared to male colleagues, and special consideration of gender issues in new minimum wage decisions for low-paid sectors with a large female workforce.

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Other reform options under consideration include measures to lift female participation in the labour market and increase retirement incomes by extending the superannuation guarantee to include all low-paid workers.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average woman earns $729.80 for a week of work, while the average man earns $1109.80. That’s $380 more than the woman gets, or $19,760 over the course of a year. And it all adds up to a 17% pay gap between women and men.

Crikey put our career counsellor hat on to check out which careers have caught up with the 21st century, and which sectors are the worst offenders.

And the results are surprising:

Average Weekly Earnings as at May 2009
Employment Category Women Men
Mining $1500 $2206
Manufacturing $851 $1121
Electricity, Gas, Water Supply $1156 $1534
Construction $852 $1264
Wholesale Trade $791 $1066
Retail Trade $462 $608
Accommodation, Cafes, Restaurants $472 $591
Transport and Storage $806 $1195
Communication Services $900 $1224
Finance and Insurance $990 $1611
Property and Business Services $805 $1241
Government Administration and Defence $1001 $1252
Education $841 $1055
Health and Community Services $737 $1184
Cultural and Recreational Services $488 $810
Personal and Other Services $710 $1104
All Industries $729.80 $1109.80

(Table extracted from Australian Bureau of Statistics data on average weekly incomes by industry for men and women (630200, table 10c and 630200, table 10f). Both can be found on the ABS website.)

You’ll notice that there are exactly zero categories in which women earn more than men.

It’s no surprise that men are paid better in traditionally male-dominated sectors like mining, manufacturing, and construction, but women are lagging behind the men even in traditionally female-dominated sectors like health, community services, and education.

Now for all of you who think that a woman’s place is in the home, here’s a few numbers to play with. If a woman decides that she would prefer to stay at home, the Federal Government — by way of the family benefit, baby bonus and childcare tax rebates — will generously pay her to have children, care for them, and do the housework. They value this work so much that they will pay her a maximum yearly income of $18,011.90 or $346.38 a week.

This discrepancy is reflected in women’s superannuation and retirement income. As the recent Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report Accumulating Poverty has found, the average woman can expect to retire with $62,600. The average man will have $135,810.

That’s a difference of $73,210 or more than twice what a woman retires with:

Estimated Retirement Income by Age
Age group Males Females
25-34 $19,780 $14,060
35-44 $46,890 $25,580
45-54 $93,920 $48,250
55-59 $126,090 $58,760
60-64 $135,810 $62,600
All ages $69,050 $35,520

(Table extracted from Accumulating Poverty (p. 6), which can be found on the AHRC website)

The AHRC report points out:

Women’s decisions to take time out of paid work, to trade salary for flexibility or to work in a low paid job are often viewed as a matter of individual choice and responsibility. Yet, these choices are very often constrained by a range of external factors such as inflexible workplace structures, family dynamics, cultural pressures and gendered stereotypes.

Critics will argue that the market — recession or otherwise – can’t afford equal pay or flexible working arrangements, but the reality is that childcare and housework — like pollution and environmental damage — are hidden economic costs, and women are paying the price in superannuation for this market failure.

As the AHRC report argues:

While women’s choices are influenced by external constraints, it is important to also acknowledge that many women do want to take on caring roles and that non-financial benefits flow from these decisions. However, this paper contends women who take on the responsibilities of unpaid caring and domestic work — work that delivers enormous wealth to other individuals and to the overall economy — should not be rewarded with poverty.

So there’s the choice — poverty or being paid less to do the same job as your male co-worker.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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