Historic Equal Pay for Community and Services Workers

The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (CLW) welcomes the announcement that the Gillard Government is prepared to provide over $2 billion to deliver an historic pay rise to 150,000 of Australia’s lowest paid workers in the social and community services sector, of which 120,000 are women. Fair Work Australia (FWA) found in principle that their work is undervalued and that gender has been important in creating that pay gap.

Minister Ellis said, “Workers in this sector have been underpaid for too long because their work was viewed as women’s work. They work in incredibly challenging jobs, including:
” Working with people with disabilities
” Counselling families in crisis
” Running homeless shelters
” Working with victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
They deserve to be properly rewarded for their work. The historic case currently before Fair Work Australia was only made possible because Labor removed the barriers to pay equity claims in the federal jurisdiction. Previously, an applicant had to prove discrimination, and the legal test only allowed comparison between “equal work” rather than the new broader test of “equal or comparable work. As a result, no equal remuneration case has to date succeeded under federal workplace relations law.” 

The Government will put a joint submission on equal pay with the Australian Services Union to the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia. If the submission is accepted, the increases would be phased-in over six years, starting on 1 December next year.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, said the announcement that the Government and the Australian Services Union will make a joint submission to Fair Work Australia, on equal pay for the community and services sector, was a historic milestone in gender equality.

Speaking at the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre Gala Fundraising Lunch on Thursday 11 November 11, Commissioner Broderick said, “This agreement will contribute to equal pay for more than 150 000 community sector workers across the country, particularly those working in health and caring service industries.”

“From a gender equality perspective, this is significant because the vast majority of these workers are women.”

In May 2011, Fair Work Australia found that social and community services workers do not receive remuneration equal to that of employees of state and local governments who perform similar work, and that gender has been important in creating that pay gap.

Ms Broderick said equal remuneration for work of equal value was not only a human right, of which many women in Australia are deprived, but its absence has had significant adverse economic consequences in Australia.

“It is indisputable that the work of the community and services sector, which takes in the health and caring industries, is some of the most important in Australia,” Commissioner Broderick said, “yet it has historically been among the most undervalued, primarily because it is largely undertaken by women.”

The case before Fair Work Australia, brought by the Australian Services Union and others for an equal remuneration order in the social and community services industry, is the country’s first equal pay test case under the new legislation.

Commissioner Broderick said the Australian Human Rights Commission welcomed the agreement.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said that the announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard was a landmark day for the thousands of social and community sector (SACS) workers, who do important but traditionally undervalued work for the community’s benefit.

“Today’s commitment from the government to fund its share of pay rises averaging 20% and up to 33% in some cases for social and community sector workers is an historic milestone on the road towards true equal pay,” Ms Kearney said.

“It is a win for those workers and their unions who have been determined to gain wage justice in the SACS industry.

“We are talking about workers who are mostly women and who look after the homeless, the disabled, refugees, domestic violence victims, children at risk and other vulnerable people in our society.

“This is difficult and demanding work, yet this female-dominated industry is one of the lowest paid in Australia because it has been historically viewed as ‘women’s work’. “The $2 billion commitment from the Government is carefully structured over a six year period, after negotiations with the Australian Services Union and other unions.

Australia’s peak community and social services body has welcomed the agreement between the ASU and the Australian Government in the Equal Pay Case as an historic moment for people who work with some of the most vulnerable members in the community.

“We congratulate the Prime Minister and Government on this important announcement as a welcome step towards securing equal pay for the workforce that is so vital to providing effective community services across Australia,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS.

“Millions of people in this country living with mental illness, drug and alcohol problems, insecure housing or homelessness and domestic violence seek the support of community services every day. ACOSS has long advocated for adequate funding to ensure effective, sustainable services with experienced workers to meet these needs.

“The announcement of a joint commitment on pay rates and that the Commonwealth will fully fund its fair share of higher wage costs is a significant breakthrough, as is the Commonwealth’s commitment to work with states and territories towards their share of funding.

“We also understand that there will be support for industry assistance to transition to new arrangements. This will need to include funding for those services that do not rely on government funding but which provide vital services to the community. This is another welcome element of the announcement as there is much work to be done to support services through implementation, both in the resolution of the equal pay case and it’s flow on effects for areas like the modern award.

Australian Human Rights Commission; ACTU; ACOSS


Community workers have today been handed long awaited pay rises in a historic decision by Fair Work Australia in the equal pay case.

The case was lodged by the Australian Services Union on March 11 2010 to address the gender-based undervaluation of the community services sector and deliver long overdue pay increases.

ASU Assistant National Secretary Linda White said this was a day community workers around Australia would never forget.

“After many years of appalling pay this decision finally gives them the recognition they deserve. These workers do crucial work in our communities and yet up until now they have been paid more than 30 percent less than those performing comparable work in other sectors.”

Ms White said that the decision, a crucial step forward in closing the 18 per cent pay gap between men and women, would not have been possible without the support of the Federal Government.

“It is the undervaluing of female dominated sectors such as the social and community services sector that has held back improvements to this pay gap.

“The recent commitment of the Labor Government to provide the necessary funds for these pay increases was key to the success of this case. It has been 30 years since such a significant decision was last handed down for equal pay, but today we have made history.”

Ms White said the decision recommended pay rises be phased in over a period of 8 years, two years longer than the joint submission put to Fair Work Australia by the ASU and the Federal Government.

“The recommended phase in time for the increases has been extended from 6 years to 8 years. This is disappointing for workers but we should not lose sight of the fact that this is the first decision that backs equal pay in a generation.”

Ms White said this decision would never have been possible without the introduction of the Fair Work Act.

“Before the Fair Work Act was introduced, sixteen cases attempted to improve pay for feminised sectors such as the community services sector – every case failed.

“This decision for community workers and for women everywhere shows the Fair Work Act is delivering fair outcomes for hard working Australians.”

Ms White said now it was time for community sector employers and all State and Territory Governments to support the decision.

Source: ASU

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