By Wendy Newman
RRR Reference Group Member
Women do 80% of the world’s work and own 10% of the world’s wealth – WHY IS THIS? A recent study by Dr Patricia Todd and Dr Joan Eveline from the School of Economics and Research at UWA, goes some way to explaining things.

Their research report, “A Review of the Gender Pay Gap in Western Australia”, was commissioned by the Government of Western Australia. It found that the gender wage gap in full time adult total earnings in the WA labour market was 25.81% (as of February 2004 quarter). In cold hard cash, this means that women earn $280.50 less a week than men.

The WA result is even worse than the national average, where the gap is 18.79% ($200.50). When you take into account the total earnings of full time and part time employees, the situation becomes more stark with the gap increasing to 42.28%
(nationally the gap is 34.31%).

WA has the largest gap of any Australian state between male and female earnings. While WA women earn less than the Australian average, WA men earn more. Our hopes that equal pay legislation and policies put in place in 1972
would help close the gap, were in vain. The gap has widened. If we attempted to account for conditions (superannuation, salary sacrificing etc.) as well as pay, the situation would be more critical.

The Gender Pay Gap leads one to ponder what the situation would look like in rural, remote and regional WA. Where professional positions for women are limited, family business structures often leaving women as silent and unacknowledged (in both a financial and decision making sense) contributors and volunteerism in our communities remaining an unmeasured
economic benefit, one can only surmise that the picture would not be rosy.

Is the news all bad? The WA Government has recently announced the establishment of a pay equity office in the Department
of Consumer and Employment Protection to pursue pay equity issues, one of the recommendations from the report.
Another opportunity to redress the imbalance might arise from current skills shortages, especially in rural, remote and regional WA. As in wartime, a relaxation of traditional gender segregation in employment may occur improving women’s
participation in the workplace.

Recent reports of traditional male industries targeting women as employees may create opportunities. The down side is that this may also further increase the gap if women enter at the lower levels of these industries and long held biases, if not addressed, will limit women’s access to higher positions and the resulting remuneration.

Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke said recently that what we need is the commitment of employers and business to achieve greater equity in pay and employment conditions for women. A lot will also depend on women themselves speaking up, doing the research and not accepting less than their male counterparts.

Regardless of the strategy, no one doubts the complexity of the issue because of its systemic nature. It’s an issue that requires systemic solutions.