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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7124

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:15): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Fair Work Amendment (Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2015 will help to reduce the gender pay gap in Australia by banning pay gag clauses which prevent workers from discussing their own pay. It does so by amending the Fair Work Act 2009 to provide that any term of a modern award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment has no effect to the extent that it prohibits workers from discussing their own pay. It also prevents employers from taking adverse action against their workers for discussing their own pay.

This Bill would make sure that workers are allowed to tell their colleagues what they are paid if they wish to, without fear of retaliation from their boss. It would not force anyone to discuss their pay, but it would make sure that bosses could not pressure their employees to stay quiet, or take any action against them if they do discuss their pay.

Data collected by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shows that where pay is set in secret, the gender pay gap is worse. For instance, the gender pay gap is much smaller in the public sector (12.3%) where workers are allowed to talk about their pay compared to the private sector (22.4%) where discussion is often prohibited.

Women will sometimes only discover that they are being paid less than their male colleagues after talking to a co-worker.

Pay secrecy can help hide discrimination, unconscious bias and bad decision making, such as where two people are paid differently for doing the same job. Pay transparency makes sure employers have to justify pay decisions.

Many workers, especially those who receive a salary and those in the private sector, are not allowed to talk about their pay with colleagues. Many employment contracts include a "gag clause", which means that workers can be disciplined or even sacked for discussing their pay.

When pay is set in secret by individual negotiation, women are at a disadvantage. While there is no evidence to suggest that women's abilities to negotiate are any different from men's, research shows women's negotiations are often less successful. Research suggests that women are less likely to ask for a raise or negotiate aggressively, and are more likely to be judged unfairly by managers.

When workers cannot discuss their pay, they are in a weaker bargaining position. Salary negotiations are partly about telling your boss what you think your labour is worth. If it is impossible to know what your boss is paying others, the negotiation can never be fair.

It should always be your choice whether to discuss your pay. Your employer should never be able to threaten you with sanctions for doing so.

Sometimes people do not feel comfortable talking about their pay, but making sure that bosses cannot impose secrecy clauses is the first step towards cultural change.

Sometimes employers prefer to keep pay secret to avoid 'dissatisfaction', but the best solution is almost always a mature discussion between workers, bosses and unions, rather than enforced secrecy.

There are several examples of similar laws overseas which Australia can learn from. Laws prohibiting bosses from taking action against workers who discuss their own pay already exist in a US law dating from 1935, but those provisions cannot be enforced. Both Republicans and Democrats support making the law enforceable. Several US states have stopped bosses punishing workers for discussing their own pay including California, Vermont, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois and Maine. The UK passed the Equality Act 2010, which sought to protect workers who discussed their own pay for particular reasons, like seeking to identify discrimination, but those rules were vetoed by the incoming Conservative government.

This Bill would not be a silver bullet - the gender pay gap is underpinned by a wide range of factors including women and men working in different industries and different jobs, the lack of women in senior positions, unpaid caring responsibilities, differences in education and experience, discrimination, both direct and indirect. Many players and much effort will be required, but this Bill would be a step towards more equal pay for women. Australia's gender pay gap is 17.9% - nearly the highest it's been for two decades. The gender pay gap widens to 24.7% when perks and bonuses are included. It is even worse for women in leadership positions, where it rises to 28.9% for senior executives. In 2015, we should be well on the way to gender equality. We must fix this disgrace.

I am hopeful that this Bill will be the first step, along with the work being done by the WGEA, unions, women's groups, everyday women and employers to fix Australia's gender pay gap.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Senator WATERS: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.