Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pay Equity and the New AWIRS

Earlier this year, the Australian Government announced that it would provide $6.2 million over four years to establish a Pay Equity Unit in the Fair Work Commission to assist with data and research collection, and specialist pay equity information. Recently the Fair Work Commission announced on the ‘Pay Equity Unit’ component of its website that: it would engage an external provider to prepare an equal remuneration report to support future equal remuneration proceedings —and here’s the big one —it would undertake a large-scale Australian Workplace Relations Study to help in its pay equity research. As it says on its website, this ‘will produce the first Australia-wide statistical dataset linking employer data with employee data since the 1995 Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey (AWIRS)’.   

I’m not sure that when the Australian Government put aside $6 million to fund pay equity research this is really what they had in mind. While a ‘new AWIRS’ is certainly welcome, I’m a bit concerned that it’s going to come at the expense of getting to the bottom of some potentially important pay equity issues. Now I don’t know exactly what FWC have in mind, but it would be a waste if this is primarily just used to show that – at a fairly broad level - women are paid less than men once you control for their particular characteristics. Sure, that’s very important, but it has been researched so many times, that either you’re convinced there’s ample proof that ‘discrimination’ exists or you’re never going to be. And really, who would it help to show that again? (It was shown again in a report that I was involved with, and alas, I don’t think that report helped a living soul.)

Now I expect that FWC are going to try and do a bit more than that, but I wonder how much more ground specifically related to pay equity they can actually cover given how many other topics they are trying to cover with this new study. Personally, I would have thought that the funds could be used in a much more targeted way to address areas of long-standing concern. Determining whether or not specific groups of women and men are undertaking work of equal value but are not being remunerated equally is a damn difficult thing to do (particularly across different industries), and no-one else has the resources available to answer these questions. Think about how much $6 million could do in this area. I realise that the Australian Workplace Relations Study is also being used to help FWC out in relation to its annual wage reviews, and the General Manager’s reporting requirements. However, the Minimum Wage Panel has not typically shown that it considers this type of research in making its annual wage review decisions, and the GM’s reporting requirements could probably be fulfilled this time around with a much shorter, sharper survey.

Don’t get me wrong – I think a new AWIRS will yield some useful information. And I don’t want to particularly dump on FWC, because I’m sure the people there are working really hard on getting this up and running … I’m just worried that, by following this path, Australia may miss its best chance yet of resolving at least some of its possible pay equity concerns.

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