Day 7: Equal pay

December 1, 2012, is the day that the landmark Fair Work Australia decision to award community workers Equal Pay for Equal Work takes effect. From today, pay increases that will lift salaries for workers in this sector by between 23 and 45 per cent begin to be carried out.

This was a case argued on gender. Community workers are some of the lowest paid workers in Australia and they are, overwhelmingly, women. Fair Work Australia, in its landmark decision – “the first ever successful pay equity claim in the national system” – agreed that gender constituted one of the reasons this work is both underpaid and undervalued. This decision is undeniably a significant improvement in ensuring equal pay for women.

This sector is underpaid precisely because the work has been undervalued as ‘women’s work’ – as ‘natural’ and therefore not requiring remuneration, respect or regard. Valuing ‘women’s work’ is about valuing women. Valuing women, respecting women and the contributions they make is vital to ending violence against women. Without respect and value, human rights are unlikely to be observed and true equity will remain out of reach.

That caring isn’t about being a doormat, or about being invisible or without needs of your own. That caring isn’t just a woman’s role and it is not to be taken for granted. Caring is a vital and necessary contribution to society and none of us would be here today without someone taking responsibility for caring for us at times in our lives. This decision challenges a culture that continues to take so much work performed by women – or traditionally seen as women’s work no matter the gender of the person who performs it – for granted and refuses to create the necessary changes that would allow for this work to be fairly remunerated and regarded.

All this might seem remote from violence against women, but it’s highly relevant. Research clearly shows that true gender equity is fundamental for the prevention of violence against women (VicHealth have done great research on this point) and establishes correlation between sexist attitudes, values and beliefs and violence against women. A culture that does not value women’s work is a culture that undermines gender equity and countenances violence against women. Valuing women’s work goes hand in hand with valuing women and granting them their full human rights to live free from the threat, and reality, of violence.

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