Wage justice for the people holding up our community
The federal Labor government announced on Wednesday of last week that it would “meet it’s responsibilities” to fund equal pay for community workers.
This announcement represents one more step toward wage justice for people working in the sector, whose equal remuneration case has been running for over a year.
It came after intensive lobbying efforts by those same workers and union members, who were emailing, calling and dancing for equal pay in the weeks leading up to this most recent commitment.
Grassroots activism is the back story to what has been largely a legal, rather than industrial, strategy on the part of the major applicant, the Australian Services Union (ASU). This activism appears to have effectively pressured the Labor members who signed equal pay pledges in the lead up to the 2010 election.
Prior to the announcement the applicants in the case, the ASU and a raft of other unions, had argued that the work performed in the community sector is undervalued and underpaid due to gender. Eighty seven percent of workers in the sector are women
They used the public sector, also female dominated, as a comparator, arguing that the disparate gendered histories of the public and private sectors had resulted in significantly different rates of pay for very similar work.
Fair Work Australia (FWA) eventually found in favour of the applicants, declaring that “for employees in the SACS (social and community services workers) industry there is not equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal or comparable value”.
However, they did not declare a dollar figure, instead inviting further submissions on the cost of the case, and directing the parties into conciliation.
There has been much talk of the cost of the case, but what this really refers to is what sort of pay rise, if any, workers are likely to see. The union has argued for the Queensland community sector rates, which were increased in a landmark decision in 2009. This would result in pay increases of between 18 and 32 percent.
It sounds like a hefty increase and it is the percentage figures that are often cited. Yet when you consider that an average community worker can earn as little as $33 000 when starting out and well under $60 000 for a management position within the sector, the rates that are being argued for appear in a different light.
This is for work with the most vulnerable and challenging members of our community,those who require care from a system, often because relationships with families are non-existent or have been stretched to breaking point.
It is work that is hard, and while Australia gives any lip service to equality, it is work that we can no longer afford to short change.
As the daughter of a disability care worker who was also a single mother, I consider myself lucky that she worked for the government sector while I was growing up. The rates of pay in the private sector mean that raising children is a hefty financial burden.
The O’Farrell government in NSW is yet to declare it will fund the outcome or make its final submissions to FWA. Community workers will not see any money until FWA makes its decision on increases, which will happen after 10 August.
It’s not over until the money is in the bank, but people doing the hard work of the sector are now one step closer to equity.
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