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Transcript of interview with Sonya Feldhoff: ABC ADELAIDE 11 November 2011: Gender Equity Pay case for workers in the social and community services sector

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Gender Equity Pay case for workers in the social and community services sector- ABC ADELAIDE

Friday 11 November 2011 Transcript

Senator the Hon Chris Evans [link:/evans]

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations • Leader of the Government in the Senate •

Issues: Gender Equity Pay case for workers in the social and community services sector

SONYA FELDHOFF: well the plight to get a decent wage for many of our lowest paid workers received a significant boost today. The Federal Government will join the Australian Services Union in its application to Fair Work Australia to increase wages in the community sector. Now that’s a sector largely dominated by women. Senator Chris Evans is the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, and joins us now. Good afternoon.

CHRIS EVANS: Good afternoon.

SONYA FELDHOFF: Thank you for your time. Well this comes with a not-insignificant cost of some $2 billion dollars. So what were the reasons behind the decision?

CHRIS EVANS: Well the Gillard Labor Government committed to equal pay as part of the development of the Fair Work Act and this is about putting that into practice.

The reality is the inequality in the pay has been hidden by the fact that the sectors that employ mainly women have been undervalued traditionally and the wage rates have been considerably lower. So this is about trying to redress that problem and make sure those industries, or sectors or professions which are dominated by women are given the full value that the professions and skills deserve.

SONYA FELDHOFF: What sort of professions are we talking about?

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CHRIS EVANS: We’re talking about people that are working in the community sector, people working with people with disabilities, doing family crisis counseling, running homeless shelters, mainly caring professional work counselors, social workers and others. People who are doing a really good job caring for people in difficult circumstances; often working in the not-for-profit sector, for the churches and other groups. And traditionally they have been seriously underpaid given their skills and the job they do.

SONYA FELDHOFF: Yes, especially as an important job as it is. Where does that money come from then? Obviously you believe it’s money well-spent but where does it come from? Is something else missing out?

CHRIS EVANS: No look, the current payment systems are rather confused because we pay by program. But effectively the Commonwealth makes a large contribution, the States make a large contribution and the sector has independent sources of income and they all come together.

And what we’ve done today is say look, we’re putting the $2 billion dollars on the table over the next six years. That’s what we know our share of paying the higher wage rates will be. And we’re going to ask the sector and the state governments to meet their share of it and we’ve been discussing those issues with them.

We’ve spoken to each of the Premiers and the first ministers in the last couple of days. Many have already started down this path. But obviously they’re going to have to step up to the plate and meet their share.

SONYA FELDHOFF: So the states have shown an openness for going down that path then?

CHRIS EVANS: Look, I think I’ll let them speak for themselves but certainly a number of them have taken some steps. In my own state of Western Australia, the State Government there made a commitment in their last budget. Many of them have committed in principle to contributing. Now we’re going to have work with them to make sure, as I say, to step up to the plate and pay their share of any decision that is awarded.

SONYA FELDHOFF: As a hypothetical, if they chose not to as a whole, does that put this in jeopardy?

CHRIS EVANS: No, look this is an application before Fair Work Australia for a decision. If the decision is awarded, that is legally binding on the employers. I mean, neither the Commonwealth or the state governments here are the employers. They are UnitingCare or those sorts of organisations. But we help fund them. So they will have to pay their employees that amount of money, the higher wage rates over the six years of the phase-in. And we will meet our share of the costs. As I say the states are going to have to contribute as well. This has been around for a while, people know it’s coming. And they’re just going to have to get onboard and we’re fairly confident they will.

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SONYA FELDHOFF: With a joint submission between the Federal Government and the Australian Services Union…is a decision that is favorable a fait accompli?

CHRIS EVANS: Look I think the Fair Work Australia will take our commitment very seriously particularly when they know we have undertaken to fund the increases. I mean one of their serious concerns would have been the impact if the funding wasn’t going to be

available. And we’d been having a conciliation process before Fair Work for some time now. So we’ve been working through the issues.

The Government’s also been working with the community services sector, making sure we have got their perspectives and working with them about the impact. So a lot of work has gone into this before, but we’ll obviously got to make the case before Fair Work Australia because it’s for them to set the wage rates. But we are fairly confident that we’ll be able to put up a strong case, because the reality is that these women, or this industry, have been seriously underpaid because of the fact of the gender inequality in our society.

SONYA FELDHOFF: Thank you very much for your time, Senator Chris Evans.

CHRIS EVANS: My pleasure.

SONYA FELDHOFF: The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations.


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