Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Finance and Public Administration References Committee
Gender segregation in the workplace and women's economic equality

BELLINO, Ms Suzanne, Political Director, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

BUTLER, Ms Annie, Assistant Federal Secretary, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

FORTESCUE, Ms Robyn, Assistant State Secretary, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union


ACTING CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has lodged submission No. 34. Do you wish to make any alterations or amendments to that submission?

Ms Butler : No thanks.

ACTING CHAIR: Would the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation like to make a short opening statement? At the conclusion of your remarks, we will go to the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and then we will invite committee members to put questions to you.

Ms Butler : Thanks very much. We will make a very brief opening statement. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation are the union for all nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing and carers across the country. We are currently the largest union in the country. We represent over 259,000 members. We represent registered nurses, enrolled nurses and midwives as well as unregulated careworkers. We represent nurses and midwives in every state and territory across the country and in all settings—health care, aged care and community settings.

For the 21st year in a row, our professions have been voted the most ethical and trusted professions in the country. This is how the community values us and this is how the community respects. Unfortunately, we would argue that we do not receive the same respect and recognition from the structures that we have in our current society. Hence, this inquiry is of great interest to us and of great interest to our members. So we thank you very much for the opportunity to give evidence today. You have our submission before you.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has lodged submission No. 37. Do you wish to make any alterations or amendments to that?

Ms Fortescue : No, thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite senators to put questions to you.

Ms Fortescue : We think that the Senate inquiry presents a great opportunity to improve the position of women within manufacturing, particularly with the technological changes that are coming within industry through automation and other means. We believe that, if we can encourage more women to undertake vocational training through the TAFE system and the quality of training that is available through TAFE, we will be well placed as a country to take forward manufacturing into this century.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Fortescue, and thank you, Senator Lines, for taking on the chair for a few moments. I want to start by asking you, Ms Fortescue, about your organisations thoughts on training and apprenticeships and career paths for women in non-traditional areas. As background, I might say that we had evidence earlier today about some limitations in the vocational guidance available to young people generally and then some specific concerns about the fact that that guidance seems to be not informed in any way by an imperative to change gender stereotypes when young women are making their career decisions. I would be interested in your views, from an industry perspective, about what you are seeing in terms of young women coming into non-traditional roles or occupations.

Ms Fortescue : The number of women going into non-traditional roles continues to be very low in relation to the number of technical, trade and related positions. If you look at total numbers in manufacturing, despite technical and related trades being ongoing areas for employment, there is structural discrimination. Young women are still diverted, if you like, at the high school level, from considering going into non-traditional fields. There is report that was released last year that shows that, if they do so choose, there is quite an extreme amount of harassment and bullying that the young women face—they have to go through trials and tribulations to complete their apprenticeship—so there need to be structural changes.

You cannot even get uniforms, gloves or protective equipment in appropriate sizes for women unless you make special efforts. Stories still abound that, if you are on a factory site, you do not get the same access to change rooms and toilets that the men do. There are continuing messages that it is not really your place. It can be changed. We know that it can be changed, but it takes active engagement at school and in the workplace, working with employers to make those changes and to support young women to complete apprenticeships.

If you look at the report that was released last year, there is a significant dropout rate, and quite a lot of women who complete do not remain in the trade because of their experiences. We think there can be change—and we think it must be changed—because it is an area of skill that we need, and women should be there.

CHAIR: In a similar vein, Ms Butler, do you see opportunities in the school sector for vocational advice to be tailored to support a greater gender balance in terms of entry to nursing, given the relatively low representation of men in nursing?

Ms Butler : It would certainly be helpful to try and encourage more males into the professions. As I am sure you are all well aware, the professions are 90 per cent female—in fact, midwifery is 98 per cent female—and that has remained relatively consistent for decades. One of the things that we would suggest, and we have suggested in our submission, is to change the perceptions of what nursing and midwifery are, what those so-called traditional caring roles are. I wish we could start changing the language around traditional caring roles. They are highly skilled, highly professionalised jobs. They are just not given the value and recognition. I think that it would be very useful if somehow we could start to address that and give a better balance to that in a vocational form in schools.

CHAIR: Ms Fortescue, your submission makes some very specific recommendations about changes to the Fair Work Act and in particular recommends amending section 302 'to recognise gender-based undervaluation of work in line with the approach of the 2015 Equal Remuneration Case'. We have had a number of reasonably specific suggestions over the course of the inquiry about particular legislative interventions we might recommend. Why have you singled out this mechanism as the one where we ought to make changes?

Ms Fortescue : It is not just talking about the work that is within manufacturing. We know that if work is predominantly performed by women then the rates of pay and other conditions are lower. If you are going to deal with inequality, you need to ensure that the inequality is addressed. This is not done by just acknowledging a problem. It is the work value argument—that the value of the work that is performed is not recognised; it is dismissed. For us, if you are a boofy bloke in overalls and you get a bit dirty, you have far more value than if you are on a production line—even a career for women who are working on a production line. They can be what is called a C13. It is very hard to get above that. Trades start at what they call the C10 rate. So you try to negotiate a career path on the job, but that can only go within an agreement. Then to make it work and give genuine training and a career path, whether it is into trade or elsewhere, is quite difficult. Yet women can be performing quite complex work at what they call the production worker level. Some places remunerate well. Cochlear would be a good example. Those women are C13 production workers, but they doing complex assembly work through microscopes for the implant devices with high quality control. But if you just relied on the current qualifications framework, they do not get points for that. So they are denied a career path. Other jobs outside our area get the same treatment.

CHAIR: You have also recommended a change to the arrangements around the right to request flexible work. The suggestion is that the Fair Work Commission might have a role where there is a disagreement between the employer and the employee about the availability of flexible work.

Ms Fortescue : Yes. If you are making an application due to caring arrangements for some alterations of changes of hours, the employer can easily dismiss the application without sitting down, really, and discussing how it can be managed or accommodated. In the past I actually ran the dispute under the state legislation to allow one of our male members to go on part-time work for child care because there was the opportunity under the state act to run that. The employer was actually quite obstructive in trying to facilitate that. Because we had that ability there to sit down and say, 'You've got to discuss it properly,' we were able to achieve it. They did not suffer. There was no detriment to their ability to run their lines. We were able to get part-time work and then a return to work—full hours.

CHAIR: Finally, Ms Butler, can I ask about the future of Work First development in your sector. We actually heard evidence earlier in the day about a projected shortfall of nurses should recruitment and retention issues not be adequately addressed in the next decade. How significant is gender segregation as a feature of this sort of emerging shortfall of nurses in the labour market?

Ms Butler : That is slightly difficult for me to give you an exact and precise answer on that. The projected shortfalls are not universally necessarily agreed at the moment because of the ways that they were constructed previously. Currently, we still have a little problem that we produce quite a good number of graduates each year from nursing and midwifery programs, and we do not get them all into meaningful employment. One of the big problems with that is that in 10 years, probably—we used to be saying 10 to 15 years, but now it is 10 years—we are going to be hit with a very big problem if we do not have those people in the workforce. We currently have many more people applying to become nurses and midwives than we have positions to get them into training. In order to prepare for the future, though, and in order to have a sufficient health workforce that is going to meet the needs of the community as we see it in the coming decades, we are going to need a much bigger workforce. A more efficient health workforce is going to be one that is more nurse-led and less reliant on medical practitioners as the leaders of the health workforce, but that requires shifts in professional recognition and acknowledgement. One of the things that will be required is significant expansion into areas that we do not currently lead in or even exist in, so that is going to require a greater workforce overall. Having more men represented in nursing would assist in achieving both those things, we believe.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Ms Fortescue, I am curious to hear from you about how you go about achieving cultural change in a very heavily male-dominated industry—as you put it, 'big burly blokes' is the perception that people have of the manufacturing sector. We have heard a lot today about the need for cultural change. How do you go about doing that in such a male-dominated space?

Ms Fortescue : It is actually quite powerful to hear from unions on their views—to our members—on what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. When I first started working for the union, going around some sites, there were still posters of naked women all over the place, and it was like, 'Why do you do it?' 'Because I'm allowed to do it at home.' 'But you never look at this stuff; why is it up there?' It was a male privilege thing.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: How long ago was that?

Ms Fortescue : Sometimes we threatened: 'You are going to get into so much trouble if you don't remove it,' but we were having to have discussions and get the delegates, who are the workplace leaders, on board to work with us on getting a change of attitude. It is the same as if women go into a workplace; we then want somebody in our on-site leadership to act as a mentor.

The Canadians have a very good system that started off in Ontario, where they have positions of workplace advocates. You have a union member—not necessarily a delegate—who goes through a week's training to deal with sexual harassment and bullying, and they become a resource person. There is a senior woman from management appointed to work with them so that they become a reference and support person for women on the job so that they do not have to deal with that issue by themselves. They can direct and guide women as to where support services are. That means that, if you have got to do that, then you have to have conversations on the job about what the behaviours are and how you are going to change them. It is about working jointly with employers to address problems and getting an understanding in place before problems happen.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Do you think the industry is doing a good job of that now, of trying to stop the behaviour before it is exhibited?

Ms Fortescue : It is a mixed outcome. Some industries are doing better than others because they are taking a proactive approach. Others are still getting some quite terrible stories coming up about what is happening. It is better than it used to be, but it is about changing behaviours. It is a really basic thing: you cannot always change belief but, if you can change behaviours—because there are consequences to bad behaviour—then that is important.

The other thing is to deal with the fact that women can do the job. There is no reason why women cannot do technical, trade and scientific work. It is about promoting it so that women see women doing that work so that they can say, 'I can do that too,' and so that men understand that the work does not belong in particular baskets. Younger men are better at understanding that, because cultural change has happened. But, within the apprentice system, a lot of the bullying that women experience comes from their peers, not from their employers, so you have to deal with that as well.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Ms Butler, you made the point that the language used around nursing and caring professions is perhaps a barrier to those careers being recognised with the importance that they should be. Do you have any suggestions about the types of language we should be using to describe this field of work?

Ms Butler : No, I had not thought about that; Sue might be able to come up with a suggestion. Just using nursing and midwifery would be good, and the practice that they work in as well. One of the big problems, of course, is that in the aged-care sector we use a universal word—we call people who are not registered or enrolled nurses 'care workers'. It is unfortunate that I make that comment right at the beginning, and it is unfortunate that I have to say that even using the language of traditional caring work means that it is inherently undervalued. But these are the societal structures within which we sit at the moment.

I am not really coming up with a solution for what language we could use, but it would be helpful if politicians actually really listened to us. I made a comment before about recognising the greater contribution that could be made by nurses particularly, but also by midwives, in leading various areas of the health workforce and the health system as it operates. For example, we have a position that is called a 'nurse practitioner' which is the peak of the clinical pathway for nurses. Interestingly, in a profession that has 90 per cent females, only 80 per cent of nurse practitioners are female—20 per cent are men. We even have a gender imbalance within certain areas of our own professions.

At the moment we have 1,000 nurse practitioners. We should probably have 10,000, but there are a whole lot of barriers to allowing nurses to be put in those positions where we could bring enormous cost savings to the health system and to governments and much more efficiency over time. Nurse practitioners attract a reasonable salary but, as I say, they are not being widely used. One of the things is that we do not have the language that allows them to be central. We do not have the political thinking that allows them to be central to managing some of the structures in the health system—it is always positioned around a doctor. I know that other allied health professions, such as some of the female dominated ones like physiotherapy et cetera, would probably put forward similar views. It is not really answering your question, but it is saying that, if we could actually bring better value to the full nature of the work that is done, we would be more successful. Sorry, I wish I had the language for you.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: I thought I would put it out there. Thank you.

CHAIR: As you say, over decades, we have still had a 90 per cent or 98 per cent female workforce in nursing. I am interested in this idea that you hear in the education, childcare and early education sectors that conditions and wages will get better the moment we get more men in the profession. I do not think that is a good enough excuse. I would like to get you to drill down on what actually could happen and, if we have to name people to be responsible for these cultural shifts as well, then who is responsible for pulling these levers? I think that just saying, 'Let more men in the door' or 'Encourage more boys at school to study nursing,' is a cop out. Sorry.

Ms Butler : No, I get where you are coming from. I have already made reference to the fact that there is gender imbalance within some sections of our own professions such as management and the so-called sexy areas, ED and critical care, yet there is a massive underrepresentation of men in aged care. It probably sounds like it is a bit of a frustration for me. I totally agree that we should not have to have men to say that nursing is valuable. Nursing should be valuable and therefore should be attractive to both men and women.

We were talking about it just outside. We thought you would probably ask us, 'How do you solve the gender pay gap in nursing?' One of the things we were thinking about is that we have a bit of a historical problem. Nursing comes from this vocational sort of background, whereas medicine comes from men with medicine and lawyers being in universities for a very long time. We did not get nursing and midwifery into universities until the 1980s. That was not fully transferred until 1994. At the same time, in the mid to late 1980s, the union ran the professional pay case for nurses and midwives. At the time, that got us a significant increase in wages, but it also got us a whole number of things with different positional classifications, career structures and career pathways. We have been able to build and develop on that. University education got us a big shift to a much more professionalised role. If we can then continue that to take further steps—I do not want to bleat on—you are all politicians and having some truly political recognition of how you might—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I interrupt there? I take your point about university being a really key turning point or lift up, as you described, in terms of a step forward. Now, over and over again we are hearing about the transition in the workforce, the changing economies, the future of work and, of course—let's name it for what it is—we have a population that is living longer. Nursing in particular is going to be one of those professions that is going to be drawn upon more and more over the coming decades. Is this now the most crucial time or is it a good time to be saying, 'How do we ensure the profession is recognised?' How do we identify what those structural barriers have previously been so it was just being seen as women's work? Is it the right time? Everyone is saying it is going to take up a big chunk of the economy going forward.

Ms Bellino : In relation to that, I would just like to talk about aged care because we talk about aged care in our submission. Unless there is something done to the enterprise bargaining system, aged care is not going to achieve significant wage increases and we are not going to close the wages gap. That is a double disadvantage for nurses, carers, AINs and enrolled nurses in that sector. There is simply a whole range of other factors with enterprise bargaining so that we cannot achieve the type of money that is equal to the public sector nursing workforce, let alone other workforces. What is more valuable than caring for frail or older Australians in very high-care situations? Our submission goes to the fact that 90 per cent of agreement are covered by enterprise bargaining with the ANMF, but those outcomes are very patchy. We have low bargaining power. They are big employers across the country. Really, they put on the table one or two per cent and say: 'There is no more money. The government doesn't give us enough money to give nurses, assistants in nursing, carers or the workforce any more than that.' We are not in such a position that we can take a national strike. Even if we did have the density, I very much doubt our members would be happy to walk out of nursing homes—in fact, I know they will not be happy to walk out of nursing homes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: They are being taken for granted.

Ms Bellino : They are being taken for granted. Even when we did secure under the Gillard government a workforce supplement, that was stopped as soon as the Abbott government was elected. Money has been thrown at this sector before to fix some of these issues, but unless it is quarantined specifically for wages the providers will spend it as they will. In aged care specifically, in our view, the only way is to step in and step in strongly, but it will cost. The providers do not offer a lot of money. Even now we are seeing in bargaining one or two per cent. The nurses in aged care and the AINs in aged care are falling further and further behind the public sector, and it is the growing workforce of the future. Aged care will be the biggest workforce in the next few years. How on earth we will attract the workforce that is required—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And quality professionals.

Ms Bellino : And quality professionals. Only about 70 per cent of the assistant in nursing carer classification have certificate III qualifications. They probably need, in our view, to have minimum qualifications introduced for all of them to recognise the professional role that they play in the workforce. Enterprise bargaining is a big issue for us in aged care. It is not going to solve the pay gap. It is making it worse when compared to the public sector.

CHAIR: Just on that question about the mechanisms by which improved pay outcomes might be achieved, it is probably worth touching on your view about the existing mechanisms in the Fair Work Act and their usefulness in relation to your membership.

Ms Bellino : Or non-usefulness, basically. Unless they force the commission to investigate, make orders and do something, they are kind of useless to us. Our industries have not used them very much, because we are advised that they are just not strong enough for us.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Ms Butler, were you going to add something?

Ms Butler : I was just going to add to Sue's comment, talking about wage disparity, that it is compounded by, for want of a better expression, disparity of entitlements with regard to the aged-care sector, because, as Sue was explaining, with the way that the bargaining system has worked and what it has provided, it basically has not provided things like proper education, career pathways, opportunities for career progression, recognition and opportunities for things that are more than just money in your pocket. So recruiting, attracting and retaining is just going to get harder and harder in the aged-care sector when those things are not being improved.

Senator LINES: Ms Bellino, you touched on the Fair Work Commission. What needs to improve in order to make it an area that your union could use to significantly improve wage outcomes?

Ms Bellino : Thank you for that. I have to say that our senior industrial officer was not able to be here today.

Senator LINES: You might want to take it on notice.

Ms Bellino : I would like to, because I note that we referred to it, but if you want specifics I would be happy to provide that.

Senator LINES: Yes. Can you set out how, in an ideal world, this would enable us to do whatever.

Ms Bellino : Yes.

Senator LINES: It is good that you mentioned the changes you made with nursing back in the eighties. Looking back at that case now—because it was revolutionary to get university training and also to put the levels and the new classification structure in—with the beauty of hindsight, what did you need to do to make those wage increases continue into the future and to make it meaningful? What you achieved was substantial and revolutionary at the time, but obviously you have not been able to build on those gains.

Ms Butler : We have built on the gains.

Senator LINES: I am not being critical.

Ms Butler : No. It is just not to the same degree.

Senator LINES: But is it bargaining? What stopped you from really advancing?

Ms Butler : What achieved it at the time was the action of the nurses and midwives. It was not any system; it was a 55-day strike. That is what delivered effectively, and that started in Victoria and spread to New South Wales and then, of course, the rest of the country. We have been relatively successful at continuing to have increased wages, better conditions et cetera—not to that degree, obviously. We have not had that big thing. What our members would say has been the most significant thing, again, is not money in your pocket; it is getting ratios in the public health systems into legislation in two states in the country, with New South Wales having it in their state award, and it is being pursued by other states and territories across the country. That is a really significant thing for our members. In terms of what the system can provide to help us continue—

Senator LINES: If that is more of an industrial question, I am happy for you to take that on notice.

Ms Butler : Regarding giving you an industrial answer: we can give you political answers, but if you are after an industrial answer, some of the things politically—again, I keep harking to getting back to recognition. An example would be to let nurse practitioners have full access to the MBS. Let that happen. That would allow them to set up with the proper recognition and acknowledgement that they would get from the community and the potential to grow a business in the same way that doctors do. But that is not allowed. That is a really good example of something really simple and practical—well, not simple politically—that could be done to achieve it. Regarding what we can do industrially, we will take that question on notice and get back to you.

Senator LINES: The other thing that I was really surprised at was your evidence that with the nurse practitioner level, 20 per cent are blokes. How did that happen? It is really interesting. I was going to put the question to you, too, that I think that in some areas we do want it to be female dominated. Personally, I had a mammogram the other day. Now, that is a very intimate affair and, thankfully, it was a woman radiographer. I am not sure I would want a male radiographer doing a mammogram. I am sure there are some procedures in obstetrics and women's health generally where women would prefer women. It is not the issue of bringing the blokes in. How did we get to 20 per cent males in the top end of the profession?

Ms Butler : Bluntly, it is the peak of the clinical pathway.

Senator LINES: I understand that. I come out of United Voice.

Ms Butler : It attracts them.

Senator LINES: So they will come in, but they come in at the top pay level.

Ms Butler : They are not coming in at the top pay level; they are progressing to the top pay level.

Senator LINES: They are advancing through quickly.

Ms Butler : The thing is that, of course, we put up a few of our own barriers. In order be a nurse practitioner, you need a master's-level qualification. It is actually measured in the hours you need to be recognised as a nurse practitioner. Then you need to be endorsed by the regulatory authority. Then the next barrier is that you need to be employed. Currently, very few nurse practitioners are in private practice because they do not have access to the MBS. There are still structures that say you have to have some consulting doctor who has general oversight and control. So there is a thing of employment and there is a thing of being able to achieve that qualification and having the time to do it. One of the things that I think we do argue in our submission is that, even within our professions, female nurses—like you would have heard so many times from everybody—tend to be the ones who suffer from career breaks because they have the caring responsibilities. They come back to work part time and they do not get the same opportunities. It takes them longer to progress. It takes them longer to achieve those things and it tends to be men because, like our colleague here was saying about the burly bloke in overalls, it is the same thing. You have a stethoscope and a scalpel, so the machines that look like they are more interesting, the ED, the critical areas and the nurse practitioner roles tend to be the ones where men are over-represented.

CHAIR: Can I thank all of our witnesses. I really appreciate you taking time, both preparing submissions and being with us today. The committee will now suspend briefly and will resume at four o'clock.

Proceedings suspended from 15:43 to 16:00