There’s a reason the largest and fastest growing group of homeless people are women over 50, said independent federal candidate Monique Ryan.
“The gender gap is real, it’s significant,” Ryan told the audience at a recent debate for the Melbourne electorate in Kooyong, where she challenged Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
“The first thing, which for me is absolutely obvious: women should receive a retirement pension in addition to their maternity leave.
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“There is no doubt about it.”
Female-dominated occupations such as childcare, elderly care, and disabled people tend to be lower paid, offer precarious hours, and have a flatter trajectory for earnings and career progression, which which leads to a prolonged decline in income – and savings – compared to men.
The gender pay gap is 13.8%, down from 17.4% when Labor lost power in 2013.
But add the part-time workforce and the gap widens to 30.6%, according to official data.
RMIT University economist Leonora Risse said investing in the care sector would reduce pressures on the cost of living and repair the federal budget.
“If you invest in the right things, you grow the economy without those inflationary pressures,” Risse told AAP.
Among advanced economies, Australia has one of the largest gaps between men’s and women’s average labor force participation and hours of paid work.
A new study from consulting firm Impact Economics released on Tuesday shows that women do more work than men, but are paid less.
As well as delivering the elusive productivity gains Australia needs, the report found that unlocking women’s participation in the workforce could address critical skills shortages.
While some tout migration as a solution, the firm’s chief economist, Angela Jackson, says Australia already has a skilled workforce that is ‘chronically underutilized’ – our women .
Halving the labor market participation gap between men and women would unlock 500,000 workers, and closing it is the equivalent of a million more workers, Jackson said.
Making childcare more affordable, which both major parties want to achieve, will allow more unpaid caregivers – mostly women – to go to work, spend more and pay income taxes.
As well as cheaper childcare and action on pensions to close career gaps, advocates also want to help carers – mostly women – get jobs, education and training .
An analysis commissioned by Carers Australia has found that Australia’s 2.65 million carers face a significant financial disadvantage, even if they are eligible for Carer’s Allowance.
Caregivers are forgoing an average of $392,500 in lost wages through age 67 and missing out on an additional $175,000 in retirement pensions, according to a report by economic consultancy Evaluate.
Those who are unpaid informal caregivers for long periods will lose even more, with the hardest hit 10% losing at least $940,000 in lifetime income and $444,500 in pensions.
“Carers are often hidden away in our community, with initiatives for their specific support needs, whether financial, health or wellbeing, overlooked,” said Melanie Cantwell, Acting CEO of Carers Australia.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women harder than men, due to job loss and a greater burden of homeschooling, putting them at greater risk of poverty. retired.
According to the Grattan Institute, six months out of the labor market can add another $100,000 to the average $2 million earnings gap between men and women with children in Australia.
Official data shows that the gender pay gap is widest in Western Australia (21.2%) and narrowest in South Australia (7.4%).
The Labor Party is committed to making pay equity a principle of fair work law.
Risse said the move was aimed at addressing a stumbling block in the industrial relations system that dates back to the last century.
Currently, wage claimants must provide evidence to the industry arbitrator that workers in a female-dominated sector have skills and roles that are on par with a comparable male-dominated occupation.
“It’s a really tough question because the nature of the work is so different,” Risse said.
Embedding the principle of pay equity into the law itself would mean that the Fair Work Commission could investigate whether pay metrics in female-intensive sectors reflect a broader bias in the way these industries are valued.
It can then be argued that industries are poorly paid, not because they require low skills but because of social attitudes that do not value certain professions because they are “feminine”.
“It opens the door for the judiciary to look at how we have these gendered implicit norms in our industrial relations system and in our broader labor market,” Risse said.
Labor leader Emeline Gaske said it would be “a watershed moment” for women across the country – especially those in underpaid industries – if this issue is resolved.
“Women know it doesn’t make sense – we experience pay inequality every day and know it’s real and unfair,” she said.
But the coalition says the principle of equal pay is already enshrined in law, for equal pay for work of equal or comparable value.
There are 1.1 million more women in work today than in 2013 and labor force participation is at record highs, according to the government.
“People are making $70 a week because we’ve been able to close the gender pay gap,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
“Furthermore, as prime minister, for the first time, more than 50% of all federal government appointments to boards of directors are now women.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the retirement pension is “absolutely essential” for women who would otherwise face poverty in retirement.
“We got rid of what used to be called the $450 rule, so women who earned less than $450 a month would now get a retirement pension,” he said.
About 200,000 women have benefited from this change.
Another idea is to introduce a “gender impact assessment” into all policies – from tax cuts to infrastructure or increased defense spending – to check who wins government decisions.
According to the OECD, gender budgeting is an international best practice and a means for governments to achieve greater prosperity and inclusion across the economy.
“The current government doesn’t see the need for it,” Risse said.
Future Treasurer Jim Chalmers backed a comprehensive and mandatory women’s budget statement in March, calling the coalition’s annual document “a kind of marketing exercise”.
But ‘stage three’ tax cuts – backed by both major parties – will disproportionately benefit men because they are more likely to be in the highest tax brackets.
Due to begin in 2024/25, the change means anyone earning between $45,000 and $200,000 will pay 30% income tax.
Meanwhile, the industrial relations arbitrator must rule on union calls for a 25% pay rise for older workers and home care on the grounds that current pay rates do not value or recognize their roles , their skills and working conditions.
The Labor Value case is scheduled for further hearings this month, but there is no date yet for the full bench to issue a decision.
If granted, the wages of 200,000 workers – mostly women – would increase by at least $5 an hour, helping to close the overall average gender pay gap.
The chief executive of the women’s advocacy group is calling for well-paid, secure jobs in care work, an expansion of the federal paid parental leave scheme, quality early childhood education and workplaces free from sexual harassment.
The group’s chairman, Sam Mostyn, says there is a ready workforce, but it’s being held back by powerful barriers to their participation.
“We need to move away from piecemeal policies that deal with individual pressures and change the way we think about our economy.”
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