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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2148


Senator COOK(9.06) —When the clock forced me to conclude my remarks last night I had almost completed dealing with the argument on market forces. Some spokespeople from the Opposition had argued that, by this legislation, we should not interfere with market forces. I have two concluding points that I wish to make about that argument, which is a specious argument to say the least. Specifically, this legislation deals with government statutory authorities. Many of those statutory authorities are natural monopolies and, therefore, do not compete in the market like the private sector. We applied equal opportunity legislation to the private sector last year and it is observing the circumstances and conditions that we seek to apply to the non-private sector in this legislation. It would seem to me to be inconsistent on this occasion for those who espouse the primacy of market forces to try to transplant an argument that they ought to have used in the debate on the previous legislation that we assented to last year in the non-private sector. So in terms of their own logic, I think they have defeated their position.

I turn now to what I think is the empirical evidence that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that legislation of this character is needed. The current picture of the participation of women in the labour market shows that women are encoded into low paid employment and they are not evenly distributed across the range of positions to which they aspire. A snapshot of the present position in the labour market would show that women work in a narrow range of industries. They do not work in, and do not have access to, all industries. It would show that women are concentrated in low paid jobs and tend to be concentrated at the bottom of the hierarchical scale in those industries in which they work; they are not distributed evenly in positions of power in the industrial hierarchy; and when they are well represented in industries or occupations they are concentrated at the lower end.

In August 1986, the last date for which I have figures, 39 per cent of the entire work force were women. Of all women available to work, 47 per cent were working as compared with 75 per cent of men. Of full time workers, 30 per cent were women, but 62 per cent of women and 93 per cent of men were employed in the full time work force. In order to illustrate the distribution of female workers across the various occupational and industry classifications. I seek leave to incorporate two tables in Hansard

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-

Table 1: Occupational classification of women. August 1986.

Occupation

Women as

% of

workforce

Women as

% of female

workforce

Managers & administrators...

23

6

Professionals...

39

12

Para-professionals...

43

7

Tradespersons...

10

4

Clerks...

74

33

Salespersons & personal service workers...

63

22

Plant & machine operators, & drivers...

17

3

Labourers & related workers...

33

13

Total...

39

100

(Source: ABS, The Labour Force, Australia, August 1986, Cat. No. 6302.0)

Table 2: Representation of women in industries. August 1986.

Industry

Women as

% of

workforce

Women as

% of female

workforce

Agriculture...

28

5

Mining...

8

*

Manufacturing...

27

11

Electricity, gas & water...

11

*

Construction...

13

2

Wholesale & retail trade...

44

22

Transport & storage...

17

3

Communication...

28

2

Finance, property & business services...

48

13

Public administration & defence...

36

4

Community services...

64

29

Recreation, personal and other services...

56

9

Total...

39

100

(*indicates that the proportion of women in that industry was statistically insignificant)

(Source: ABS, The Labour Force, Australia, August 1986, Cat. No. 6203.0)


Senator COOK —I thank the Senate. Table 1, which is headed `Occupational classification of women. August 1986' has two percentage columns against a list of various occupations. The first percentage column shows the percentage of women in the occupations that are listed in the table. The second percentage column shows the percentage of women, out of the entire number of women working in the work force, in those occupations. Table 2 is a representation of the distribution of women in various industry sectors. The two percentage columns reflect the remarks I made about the two percentage columns in table 1. The tables show a distorted picture. I do not wish to dally on what that distortion is, but only to say that they prove, by statistical evidence, the point that I was making before about the uneven distribution and the segregation of women in the work force.

The discrimination against women is not just a matter of their access to employment. If one takes the remuneration of women in the work force as a level, one will find that in May 1986 average weekly earnings for women-that is, average weekly earnings without overtime-worked out at $326.30 a week. The figure for men was $414.90 a week. That is a difference in favour of men of $88.60 or 21 per cent. On all of the average weekly earnings comparisons, women come out in a vastly inferior position. The worst example is when one takes an aggregation of all the statistics and finds the gross bottom line figure for the average weekly earnings for all employees. In May 1986 women averaged $245.80 a week while men averaged $403.90-a difference in average remunerations between employees on the grounds of sex of $158.10, or 39 per cent. Part of the explanation for that gross distortion is that women populate the part time work area more than men do. The table is skewed because women often work out of economic need as opposed to a pursuit of a particular career and assume household responsibilities as well.

If one were to complete a comprehensive review of discrimination in the work force, one would have to include in that review an examination of equal pay decisions in Australia. It was not until 1972 that the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission brought down a decision which recognised the principles of equal pay for work of equal value. When we cite that principle now it is indeed difficult to believe that prior to 1972 work was not remunerated on terms of equal value. There was discrimination in favour of men with lower wages paid to women for doing exactly the same range of work with the same range of responsibilities.

In 1972 an equal pay case came before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Government of the time, the McMahon Government, intervened in the so-called public interest to oppose the establishment of that principle. It was not until the Whitlam Government came to power in the famous first Whitlam Government-the duumvirate of Whitlam and Barnard-that government turned around that intervention and supported the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. When that decision came down the doomsayers forecast that women would be dismissed in droves because if an employer had a choice between a woman and a man he would always choose a man. The doomsayers also forecast that the economy would collapse because of the cost burdens imposed on industry by that decision. Neither event occurred. What did occur, however, was that the notion of women's work arose as a prime consideration.

Last year, 1986, a further case was taken to establish comparable worth. The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in its decision did not recognise the use of the term `comparable worth' as a principle but, nonetheless, referred the particular industry awards relevant to what had been called up to that point `women's work' to anomalies procedures under the Commission. Through that procedure, by way of sorting out anomalies in awards, the comparable worth criteria are increasingly being recognised. At last, after all these years, discrimination brought about by the market-place against women's employment and equal remuneration for women in employment is being put to rest.

It is idle therefore, as some have argued, to say that there is no need for this legislation. If one looks at the statistics and tables I have tendered and follows the argument about discrimination in remuneration, it is clear that there is a need for some guidance to be given to the market-place to ensure equality of opportunity for women. In that sense it is doubly important that other categories-Aborigines, migrants and disabled people too-have a right to equal opportunities. Those categories by and large in the statistics are discriminated against even more so than those stark figures I have given illustrate in terms of women's employment. Indeed, if a woman is in double jeopardy-if one is a woman and a migrant, a woman and disabled or a woman and an Aboriginal-one's opportunities for equality in employment decrease down the scale in the respective order in which I have cited those particular categories. An Aboriginal woman looking for employment in Australia would have virtually no chance of finding work and virtually no access to employment in the areas of occupation or profession to which she may aspire. For a liberal democracy like Australia that is indeed a harsh criticism. It is a reason why this Government has in its labour market programs specifically targeted those areas for support programs to encourage work experience, training and skills development for workers in those categories so that they can be brought up to a reasonable level in which they can compete. This legislation helps fill out that objective.

Some critics opposite have said that the legislation is an unfair burden on employment authorities. Although those remarks are probably more relevant to the private sector than to this sector, I believe that it is a matter that is worthy of argument. In 1977 I had the privilege of examining the labour practices in the construction of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline compared to labour practices in the Pilbara area of Western Australia. The study was of remote construction in isolated communities in harsh geographical environments. The reason why the Trans- Alaskan pipeline is important is that it started before the United States non-discrimination laws were in place and was completed after they had had their effect. There was a dramatic improvement in efficiency because of the application of the non-discrimination laws. When one compared the work performance on the construction of that pipeline to the work performance on the construction of resource development projects in Western Australia, there was a dramatic improvement in favour of the pipeline construction where non-discrimination applied rather than the market force selection of a young, white, Anglo-Saxon, male work force in the remote region of Western Australia building resource development projects.

The conclusion of that study was that it is more efficient for industry to run a non-discriminatory regime and to give equal opportunity to all sectors of the community than it is to select what on the surface might appear to be the most efficient type of worker. It was found that when workers work in a normal, natural environment with a reasonable sex balance-a balance in terms of ethnicity that is typical of the communities from which they come-and when in all other respects life at work mirrors life in general society workers are more efficient. Therefore, this legislation has a significant import in bringing to the output of industry and to the public sector greater efficiency gains. As well as being basically right and humanitarian, it is more efficient in terms of industrial operation.

That brings me to a conclusion in my remarks. I believe that those members of the Opposition who are opposing this legislation are betraying a basic right of people in this society-a liberal democratic society dedicated to democratic institutions and elections through Parliament-to have equal opportunity. Those who oppose this legislation are also betraying the responsibility of Senator Peter Baume who in August last year, representing his Party's view, called for this legislation. He has now been undermined and betrayed in a sleazy political compromise aimed at appeasing the National Party of Australia and those honourable members who are walking away from the principles which were then being espoused by the Opposition.

Finally, those who oppose this legislation betray a fundamental principle which should arch across all parties in the liberal democratic process. That fundamental principle is that, if you treat unequal groups equally, you perpetrate discrimination. I believe that one thing that binds together most parties which support parliamentary democracy, and arches across philosophical differences, is a commitment to a principle such as that. Those who oppose it walk outside of that commitment.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.