No equal pay in our lifetime

A new report by Oxfam has found that it will take 75 years for women and men to be paid on a par, making equal pay for most just a pipe dream.

This worldwide phenomenon, where women can do the same job as men but be paid less, shows no sign of changing anytime soon, despite measures in several countries to combat this inequality.

In Australia, about 65 per cent of women work, mostly on a part-time or casual basis and earn the equivalent of about 65 per cent of men’s wages. Although Oxfam did find that having anti-sex discrimination policies, such as Australia’s, which force workplaces to not only monitor, but also report on gender equality, did help.

The inequality in salary not only amounts to less in the bank at the end of the month, but it also impacts on retirement incomes, with Australian women losing out when compared to their male counterparts. More employer changes, more part-time and casual positions and time out of the work force all contribute to less superannuation come retirement.

It also has a dramatic effect on the economic growth of countries. If women and men were paid the same rates, the GDP of the US would rise by 9 per cent, the European Union by 13 per cent and Japan by 16 per cent.

And not valuing the work, such as childcare and looking after elderly parents, which most women do outside the paid workforce, is also economically damaging. This unpaid work amounts to women subsidising the national economy by between two and five hours of unpaid work, per week, more than men.

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Opinion: Focusing on the wrong issue

The good news is that amongst other G20 countries, Australia’s gender pay equality actually compares quite well, with only Canada, the UK and Indonesia on par. But if we’re to produce future generations which value women as much as men, we need to strive to be better, indeed to be the best.

Oxfam is urging Australia to use its presidency of the G20, when chairing the summit, to be held in Brisbane in November, to push the issue of gender pay equality. But rather than those countries which perform well patting each other on the back and admonishing those who don’t, it really does need to be an open, honest and informed discussion.

It needs to be about more than women and men not being paid equally in the workforce, because that’s only the tip of the iceberg. And yes, it needs to address the issue of unpaid work, such as caring and home duties done by women, but it’s more than that. It needs to quickly realise that there currently is a generation of women who are leaving the workforce with little or no retirement savings due to these factors. The balance needs to be redressed for those women who didn’t work for periods of time when they were raising children or looking after elderly parents, or simply because their husbands didn’t see it as ‘fitting’ for their wives to work. These are often the same husbands who have ditched their wives for younger models, leaving them with no means of support in the future.

According to the Westpac Women & Retirement Readiness Report from December 2013, there is a median gap in super balances of $121,200 for men and women, aged between 60 and 64, which means that the average female in her 60s would need to work an additional 25 years just to retire with the same amount of super as her male counterpart. However, it should be noted that these figures are based on the median super account balance for a 60-year-old woman being $108,900 – I for one would like to know how many women aged 60 have this amount in their super. 

So, while it is of course important for future generations that we fight for gender pay equality, it’s equally important that we fight now for equality in retirement funding for those women who were neither lucky enough to benefit from the superannuation guarantee, or who took the ubiquitous ‘career break’ to raise a family.

Do you think women should earn the same as men when doing the same work? Do you think women should be financially recompensed for unpaid carer and home duties? Are women more financially disadvantaged when it comes to retirement savings, or is the whole baby-boomer generation in danger of running out of retirement funding?

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