The gender pay gap and equal pay

What is equal pay?

Equal pay is the difference in average earnings between women workers and their male counterparts in the same work role.  

It follows the idea that if you are doing the same job, you should be paid the same wage. In Australia, equal pay is a legal requirement.

What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is broader in scope than equal pay: it looks at the gendered difference of earnings across organisations, industries and the entire workforce. 

Women ending up with less pay than men on average doesn’t just happen simply when a man doing the same job is paid at a higher rate. There are other structural factors at play such as employers offering women less promotion opportunities and less women in managerial positions.  

The lack of women represented in management roles isn’t particular to male-dominated industries. Even in Australia’s two female-dominated industries – Healthcare & Social Assistance and Education & Training – the gender pay gaps for both are larger than the national average.

How bad is the gender pay gap in Australia?

The gender pay gap in Australia is not something to be proud of. As of February 2023, the overall gender pay sits at 13.3 per cent difference between men and women who work full-time.  

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (who measure the gap) has found that the gender pay gap has barely budged in recent years. In fact, the WGEA found that the 2022 gap was exactly the same as it was in 2021.

How do you figure out if you’re being paid unfairly because of gender?

At the moment, the WGEA is limited in its abilities because not all companies are required to report their data to the Agency. But a union-backed Bill now going through parliament may be about to open up more information to workers. 

The Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing The Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023  requires companies with over 100 employees to publicly share how much they are paying their workers. If these numbers were to become readily available to workers, it would be far easier for you to see if you’re missing out on pay. 

How do we fix the gender pay gap?

There are two key changes to work laws that will make closing the gender pay gap a whole lot easier.

1. How to close the gap via enterprise agreements

A major cause of the gender pay gap is the lower pay rates found in women-dominated industries such as aged care, teaching and early childhood education. One big step forward to tackling the industry-level inequality is the introduction of multi-employer bargaining. 

Rather than a small number of employees at a single workplace having to bargain for improved pay and conditions in an enterprise agreement, separate workplaces that fall under the same employer will be able to bargain as one big group of workers. 

It’s all about strength in numbers. More workers mean more bargaining power. More bargaining power means greater chance of success in achieving the wages you need.  

Most of the multi-employer bargaining reforms in Australia came into effect on 6 March 2023. Talk to your union about how to make the most of those new laws at your workplace.

2. How to close the gap via Awards

Enterprise agreements only cover a relatively small fraction of workers in Australia. However, one in four workers rely on Award wages – the majority of which are women.  

Awards aren’t as beneficial to workers as enterprise agreements because of rules that say enterprise agreements must be better overall compared to the Award that covers the workplace. 

But Award wages can still be improved. Each year, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) decides via the Annual Wage Review how much the national minimum wage and Award wages should be raised.  

Last year, the union movement won an historic 4.6 per cent increase to Award wages. For the 2023 Annual Wage Review, the rules will be a little different.  

Thanks to the implementation of the new work laws, the FWC now must take gender equality into consideration when it makes decisions that affect Awards. That bodes well for future increases to Award wages and the national minimum wage.

What do you do if you are getting paid less on the basis of gender?

But let’s say you have just discovered that you’re being paid less than your male colleagues and you think it may be on the basis of gender. What can you do right this minute?  

It’s at this moment when it literally pays to be a union member.  

If you’re a lone voice bringing this issue to your boss, it is easy for them to dismiss your concerns.  

Plus, figuring out the legal avenues for resolving unfair pay is incredibly difficult on your own.  

But your union can help you figure out the next steps to getting the pay you deserve. Whether that be helping facilitate discussion with your employer or providing legal advice, your union is with you every step of the way. 

After all, it’s no coincidence that women who are in a union deal with a far smaller gender pay gap than women who are not members.

Enter your email to access our expert workplace information

Almost two million union members have contributed to us providing this free workplace factsheet. Because you’ve read a few of our factsheets, we’re asking for your email address to keep reading. This is so we can keep you updated with the latest news and workplace advice.

Don’t worry: our factsheets will always remain free, thanks to the solidarity of the union movement.

View our Privacy Policy

Do you want some further information about The gender pay gap and equal pay?

The Australian Unions Support Centre provides free and confidential assistance and information for all workplace issues. We’re here to provide support, regardless of your job or industry.

All Support Centre enquiries are 100% confidential.

Contact Australian Unions

Ready to join a union?

The best way to make sure your rights at work are protected is to join a union.

Join your union