Women’s Wages and the Penalty Rate Cut

by Jim Stanford

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to reflect on the continued inequality faced by women — including in the world of work.  Traditional measures of the “gender pay gap” indicate that women earn around 17 percent less than men, in ordinary pay in equivalent full-time positions.  But the situation is worse than that, because of women’s disproportionate concentration in part-time work.  Including part-time workers, women now earn exactly one-third less than men.

The Fair Work Commission’s announcement of coming reductions in penalty rates for Sunday and holiday work (of up to 50 percentage points of base wage) in the retail and hospitality sectors will clearly (if implemented) exacerbate the gender inequality in earnings.

After all, the retail and hospitality sectors are among the biggest employers of part-time workers, very often in casual and irregular positions.  Women make up most of the workforce in both sectors, and they occupy an even larger share of part-time positions: 70 percent of women in food and beverage services, and 60 percent of women in retail, are in part-time jobs.  Most of the workers whose Sunday wages will be cut are women — and they were already among the lowest-earning workers in the entire labour force.

If this decision was a “gift” to workers from the FWC (as some politicians have described it), wrapped up and delivered just in time for International Women’s Day, women should definitely send it back.

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