The Council of Trade Unions has slammed proposed new Government legislation over equal pay, saying it needed to be “fundamentally reworked”.
It comes just days after unity between the Government and unions was fostered over a landmark equal pay settlement, but it appears to be back to business-as-usual with the council saying the accompanying legislation falls short in crucial areas.
The proposed new laws sit alongside a historic pay deal reached between the Government and unions, for the aged care sector, earlier this week.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a $2b package to drastically lift the wages of the-(mostly female) aged care workforce, following a precedent-setting court case against company Terranova, fronted by worker Kristine Bartlett.
The Government also planned to introduce legislation separately, to provide a framework for other claimants to take similar pay complaints to their employers, under the Equal Pay Act, without having to go to court.
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Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse has released the new bill for public consultation. He said it was an important step, and “is vital to closing the gender pay gap”.
The new legislation provides that an employer must ensure that pay rates and working conditions do not discriminate on the basis of gender between employees who perform the same or substantially the same work.
It also states that for work that is “exclusively or predominantly performed by female employees, the rate of remuneration paid for the work contains no element of gender-based differentiation”.
When a claim of pay inequity is taken to an employer however, the bill also provided a legal framework for a number of “comparator” roles to be decided on that would help gauge the correct level of pay.
However, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said it contained a “limiting mechanism” for choosing and agreeing comparators for claimants which was at odds with the existing Equal Pay Act, the recent Court of Appeal Judgement and was impractical.
Rather than allowing for the negotiating parties to proceed on the basis of a general agreement over comparable roles, it forces them into pre-negotiations to agree on specific roles, before mediation can begin.
It would ultimately impede women making claims for equal pay, and it was not the way comparator roles aided negotiations in the Bartlett case, Wagstaff said.
“Comparators are a crucial part of assessing whether pay inequity exists. Women need to be able to select the most appropriate comparator for their particular role regardless of who their employer happens to be,” he said.
“The fairest outcome is for the best and most relevant comparator to be selected in each circumstance. This Bill as it stands will trap many low paid women on discriminatory wage rates.”
Woodhouse said the Government was looking for feedback “to ensure that the wording in the legislation is clear and workable”.
“Currently, the Equal Pay Act is not equipped to provide guidance on pay equity claims and needs to be updated to provide for a practical and fair process for employees to follow if they feel they are not being paid what their job is worth due to gender discrimination.”
Consultation closes May 11, and legislation is planned to be introduced to Parliament shortly after.