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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 710

Senator LUNDY (Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (10:10 PM) —Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the contribution by Senator Adams. She is a role model, a survivor herself, and I think she has managed to capture and sum up very well how many of us are feeling in this chamber today in paying our respects to all of the women who are confronted with breast cancer. Her tribute to all of those women through her speech on Pink Ribbon Day is greatly appreciated.

On Thursday, 12 August, during the recent federal election campaign, I signed the Australian Services Union pay equity pledge, along with Gai Brodtmann, now the member for Canberra—she was then the candidate for the seat of Canberra—and David Mathews, the second Senate candidate for the Labor Party here in the ACT, at the ACT rape crisis centre. We were met there by the executive officer of that centre, as well as the 2009 ACT Telstra Business Woman of the Year, Veronica Wensing, and other employees from the centre. I am pleased to report that the now member for Fraser, Dr Andrew Leigh, also signed the pledge at a later date.

It was quite a momentous day because Gai and David and I visited the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, where we were asked by the community sector workers there to sign the pledge, which asked candidates to support equal pay for community workers and asked for a commitment from me, as a federal Labor member of this parliament, to continue working to ensure organisations in the community sector have the funds they need to meet the costs of equal pay without the need to cut services in the social and community sector. This pledge builds on federal Labor’s long-standing commitment to a strong, viable and productive community sector, and I am proud to be associated with it and the campaign of the Australian Services Union.

I think it is important to use this opportunity to give some background to the particular centre we visited. The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre provides 24/7 phone support for people affected by sexual violence; legal and medical advocacy services; face-to-face counselling for women, children and men; community education; and input into government policy and reforms. Meeting with the women at the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, they were able to inform me of an average day in the centre. Like nearly all community sector agencies, the majority of the paid workforce also contribute an outstanding amount of volunteer time, some up to seven hours a day of their own time, to the organisation just to keep the service going to the benefit of the community, including some of the most vulnerable affected by sexual violence.

The average weekly earnings figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that Australian women in the community sector industry earn 17.6 per cent less than men in weekly terms. This represents the highest weekly gender pay gap that we know of. Looking after those in our society who are in the most need—the young, the frail, those who are fleeing domestic violence, abuse, harassment—is some of the most critical and challenging work that anybody could do in Australia.

The non-profit community sector is a key partner in delivering major social policy reforms and in creating opportunities for Australians to participate in work, engage in life-long learning and live with dignity and respect. The money paid in this sector does not reflect the time, care, patience, professionalism and skill that people contribute. The number of hours that individuals go above and beyond their duty—and, as I said, their paid work—to help those less fortunate than them is truly astounding. If these individuals were no longer able to contribute the additional volunteer work necessary for these organisations to survive, the whole sector would fall over and there would be a crisis right across the country. Yet we rely on these workers to volunteer their time out of the goodness of their hearts to help those most vulnerable—usually people who are at the lowest point of their lives, many of whom cannot see a way forward. These workers in turn rely on their friends and families for support.

Not surprisingly, it is my view and, I think, that of my colleagues that it is time we changed attitudes regarding the work these people do. It is often seen as on the margin, but I believe it is not only central to a civil society but in fact one of the best ways to invest in what I would consider to be a decent society where we all have an opportunity to live with dignity and respect. The best way to start, of course, is by awarding equal pay and fair terms for the work done. It is a huge concern that the wages earned by workers in this sector do not reflect their care, patience, compassion, skill and professionalism, as I mentioned. It is also concerning that the wages earned by workers in this industry in many, many cases do not even reflect—and we saw this firsthand in our visit to this centre—these professionals’ qualifications. The only solution for many people in the sector is to find a different occupation as they often cannot afford to continue their work in the community sector. For this reason, it is understandable that the community sector finds it difficult to retain staff, especially those with a great deal of experience and qualifications. We know that 87 per cent of these employees, out of a total of 200,000, are women.

The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling has found that pay inequity costs the Australian economy $93 billion per year or some 8.5 per cent of GDP. Its report found that being a woman accounts for 60 per cent of the difference between women and men’s wages, the single largest reason for the gender pay gap. This includes complicated factors such as women’s choice of career, jobs, work hours, consideration of caring responsibilities, women’s work motivations, bargaining power—or lack thereof—and appetite for risk as well as discrimination against women that occurs in the workplace. I think everyone understands that federal Labor strongly support gender pay equity based on our values of fairness and equity at large. The Australian government also recognises the important work being undertaken by the dedicated individuals employed in the social and community services sector. We believe that the community sector plays a vital role in delivering services to the most vulnerable in our community and must have the resources it needs to do this job.

Last year, Ms Julia Gillard, now Prime Minister, and the Australian Services Union signed a heads of agreement to support a major test case on pay equity for community sector employees under the new Fair Work system, based on the principles of gender pay equity. Under this agreement, the Labor government has agreed to work with the Australian Services Union to support Fair Work Australia in developing an appropriate equal remuneration principle for the federal jurisdiction and to provide research such as labour market information to assist Fair Work Australia in determining the pay equity claim. The Australian Services Union, with other unions, lodged an application with Fair Work Australia for an equal remuneration order for workers in the community sector. The Fair Work Act has broadened the scope of the previous equal remuneration provisions to include the right to equal pay for work of comparable value, as well as equal value, reflecting the approach already taken in many states. The ASU’s application is the first case relying on the more generous pay equity provisions that federal Labor introduced with the Fair Work Act in 2009.

We will continue to play our part as a government in the hearing of the case, assisting Fair Work Australia and the parties by presenting accurate and comprehensive data and evidence on gender pay equity in the community services sector. The government will be lodging a written submission to assist the parties to the case through the presentation of research and evidence on matters including the history of relevant awards and labour market features of the social and community services sector. The Gillard Labor government has already committed to work through the funding implications of any increase in wages awarded as a result of the ASU’s national— (Time expired)