Op-ed: This government isn’t going to address women’s equality at work — it’s up to us

By Melissa Donnelly

November 12, 2019

Melissa Donnelly/CPSU

During Senate Estimates, we learned that the Morrison government is not only failing to address equality at work, it is also trying to stop the problem from being measured or discussed.

It is sadly unsurprising that the government is failing to analyse the impact of its policies on women — there hasn’t been a women’s budget analysis since 2014.

It’s the policy equivalent of a toddler with their fingers in their ears, yelling “not listening, not listening”.

The government’s refusal to examine the impact of its policies on women means they risk creating or continuing policy failures that have serious social and financial consequences.

Our union has championed superannuation as an issue for working women, leading the way with superannuation payments on unpaid parental leave, which has a disproportionate impact on women.

Changes of this nature are not, however, enough — and to properly address the retirement shortfall women face we need to look at the system in totality.

It is a well-established fact that there is a massive gap between men and women’s retirement income and that women, on average, retire earlier and live longer than men; but the Treasury’s current Retirement Income Review doesn’t look at the issue.

What is the likelihood, then, that the Retirement Income Review will produce serious strategies to address the fact that 40% of single retired women live in poverty? Or that 44% of women rely on their partner’s income as the main source of funds for retirement? Or that women receive only one-third of the government tax concessions on super, while men receive two-thirds?

Similarly, the government’s review of the public service failed to include gender issues in its terms of reference and the submissions and process around that review have been blind to issues of gender.

The current gender strategy for the Australian Public Service acknowledges the growing body of research that shows that organisations with the most gender equality outperform those with the least, that increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles is associated with better financial performance, and that gender equality in teams promotes an environment where innovation can flourish.

However, this doesn’t actually seem to be influencing the policies and analysis that is being undertaken by government, and we know from Senate Estimates that the new gender strategy for the Australian Public Service won’t be ready when the current one expires at the end of this year.

This government doesn’t want to know about problems, and it has shown it has no intention of solving them. It is failing working women.

That’s why working women need to stick together, and force change ourselves. An important part of that is gathering detailed data to understand the landscape we’re dealing with.

That’s why our union, the Community & Public Sector Union, undertakes the largest survey of working women in Australia — the What Women Want survey.

Now in its 10th iteration, it is a vital tool in identifying the issues affecting women at work and developing strategies to address them and make our workplaces, and society, more equal.

Information we’ve gathered from previous surveys has helped us protect and improve crucial workplace rights and conditions. Previous survey participants have told us how much flexibility and working hours matter, and this data helped us prevent the government from cutting overtime for part-timers, improved flexible work arrangements for executive level staff, and stop proposals to increase working hours.

The survey is now open — women are encouraged to participate online.

Melissa Donnelly is the National Secretary of the CPSU.

READ MORE: From government policy to algorithms to medical research focus — where are the women?

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