(Canberra – 05 March 2020) More than 200,000 social and community workers, are at serious risk of losing their jobs if the Australian Government cannot provide surety for the 2012 Fair Work Commission equal renumeration order, which is due to expire in 2021.  

In the lead up to International Women’s Day (8th March) the Women’s Electoral Lobby Australia (WELA) joins a coalition of national organisations calling on the Australian Government to recognise and finalise its commitment to gender pay gap for these workers, most of whom are women. #trustthewomen #equalpay

“In 2012 the Fair Work Commission (FWC) made an equal remuneration order (ERO) for social and community workers, providing pay increases up to 45% over 8 years, to address the gender-related undervaluation,” said WELA National Convenor, Emma Davidson.

Eighty percent of community and social workers are women who provide social work, domestic violence services, financial counselling, food relief, youth services and much more. They improve the safety, health and wellbeing of our communities. These jobs are often employed casually or as part-time workers, with wages still registered as low income levels, positioning many in this workforce on the edge of wage insecurity.

“If the Government fails to provide certainty for the supplementation to offset the current $554m in the gender pay gap for these workers, we will see drastic cuts to services to families, children, domestic violence and other services,” Ms Davidson said.

The Fair Work agreement is a legally binding award recognising the pay increases and the gender pay gap experienced by this important workforce providing crucial services across the country. The current funding agreement expires after 2021, with no guarantee of continued funding.

“We are calling on the Government to provide a sustainable solution to continue the supplementation by incorporating this legally binding award into ongoing community sector grants,” Ms Davidson said.

“Failure to address this issue would deliver a significant blow to a rare, well-deserved, hard-won, and overdue advance in pay equity for women, and reversal of progress towards reducing the gender pay gap,” Ms Davidson said.

Funding was provided by supplementary funding in Federal Government grants and service agreements, to ensure that existing services were maintained and that the social and community workers received the full benefit of the increases provided under the ERO.

In 2012 WELA appeared in the original equal remuneration case, with the National Pay Equity Coalition. In those proceedings, the women’s organisations outlined how the historic gender-related undervaluation had come about. Some important factors were that social and community services work had emerged as work which had been previously either not been done at all, despite great needs, or provided unpaid by women in families and communities.

As governments began to fund services, rates were struck at levels well below those that should have been paid for the value of the work, because of the control governments have had over funding.

The case involved an exhaustive examination of the skill, effort and responsibility demanded by the work. There were extensive comparisons with a range of other work and rates of pay, and specific skills analyses.

The Fair Work Commission considered that the case had been made out that the work was undervalued and underpaid on the basis of the gender of the workers. It also recognised that a significant contributing factor to the under-remuneration of the work is the lack of capacity for bargaining for increases beyond the award, related to the structural characteristics of the industry that are unlikely ever to change.

“The value of the work is no less today than when the case was conducted – in fact, it is likely to have increased with increasingly complex demands in the work, management, and funding. It is well known that much of the unpaid work in providing care in families and communities,” Ms Davidson said.

“It is also well known that the costs of providing that care fall heavily and disproportionately on women, affecting their earnings and retirement incomes. The structural characteristics of the industry that prevent enterprise bargaining have remained unchanged.

“In the barely imaginable event that the necessary funding to maintain the equal remuneration order is not provided, the impact would fall almost entirely on women.

“The reduction of services would put the burden of providing many services back on women in families and communities. The women working in the industry would be severely disadvantaged by loss of employment and future prospects. Families and communities would suffer greatly as services they really need became unavailable and standards of living and quality of life declined for many vulnerable people.”

“It would be unconscionable to fail to maintain these much needed social and community services, to savagely reduce women’s access to employment, and to strike such an unmerited blow against gender pay equity,” concluded Ms Davidson.

As WELA and NPEC pointed out in the original case, there are many benefits from improving the recognition of the skills, responsibilities and efforts involved in social and community work, in developing better career paths, improving attraction and retention in these occupations, and in improving lifelong remuneration, and retirement incomes for women.

Workers in the community service sector provide support to people when they need it most, when they’re facing homelessness, escaping domestic violence or dealing with mental health issues.

Community service workers provide social work, financial counselling, food relief, youth services and much more. They improve the safety, health and wellbeing of our communities. Key facts:

  • Only 5% of community service sector workers say their service can keep up with demand.
  • Three million people live in poverty in Australia, including 700,000 children.
  • One woman a week is murdered through domestic violence.
  • More than 100,000 people in Australia are homeless.
  • More than 80% of workers in the community service sector are women.
  • On average women in Australia earn 14% less than men.


Media contact: Jenny Muir [email protected]