Today is Equal Pay Day, marking the 61 extra days from the end of the previous financial year that women, on average, must work to earn the same annual pay as men. And this year that annual marker of the myriad of injustices that women face in the workplace falls a little bit later than last year.
Why? Because the gender pay gap has increased.
That’s right: twelve days ago, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) released the new gender pay gap figures and — surprise, surprise — the gender pay gap has increased. Men now earn $260 a week more than women, and the national gender pay gap sits at 14.2 per cent, an increase of 0.8 percentage points over the past six months.
If you sense a hint of sarcasm (I know, I’m so subtle), that’s because just about every expert – let’s just call them #crediblewomen — warned that this would happen as a result of the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on women, particularly mothers.
The fact that the Morrison government chose to focus the stimulus in the budget on male dominated industries such as construction instead of investing in a “caring economy” that those same experts (coughs #crediblewomen) said would help “build back better” didn’t help.
As women were the hardest hit at the height of the pandemic, they very credibly argued, the Morrison government should focus on female-dominated industries rather than solely on traditional, “hard-hat” recovery projects like construction.
So here we are. The increase in the gender pay gap, according to WGEA, was driven mainly by a rapid rise in men’s pay, at 1.8 per cent, while women’s pay increased just 0.9 per cent. The construction industry alone had a 4 per cent increase on the back of the significant government investment in that sector.
Can you hear the collective cry of, “I told you so!”
But, as women are ultimately the losers here, I think I can safely speak for all those credible women who, rightly, predicted this outcome when I say that it brings us no joy to point out that we were right.
That said, for me the really infuriating thing since the new gender pay gap figures were published twelve days ago – I repeat, twelve days ago — is not that this outcome was entirely predictable and reasonably avoidable, but the absolute deafening silence from the Morrison government, in particular Minister for Women Marise Payne and the newly minted Minister for Women’s Economic Security Jane Hume.
Since the figures were published twelve days ago, and despite other national leaders passing comment, including Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who said she was “devastated”, neither Payne nor Hume have offered a comment.
After a long history of disingenuously trying to spin the gender pay gap as “great news for women”—remember when Josh Frydenberg got so carried away with the spin he erroneously declared the gender pay gap closed, or when the Office for Women heralded the 14 per cent gender pay gap as “great news for Australian women”, prompting some to ask, “Is this a parody account”— I can only surmise that the Morrison government has now embarked on a new phase in its strategy to tackle women’s economic security: if you can’t spin it, just ignore it.
No one from the Morrison government has said or done anything to reassure the women of Australia that they understand the drivers of the gender pay gap, the cumulative lifetime impact of which undermines women’s economic security and contributes to the fact that women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population. Not Marise Payne, not Jane Hume, not the Office for Women and certainly not our Prime Minister Scott Morrison. I can’t say if our special attaché for women’s business, the Prime Minister’s wife Jenny, has had a quiet word.
Nor has anyone from the Morrison government said or done anything to indicate that they intend to tackle those drivers.
This, of course, begs the question: what’s worse, the spin or the silence? For me, both are symptomatic of the Morrison government’s continued patronising approach to the vital issue of women’s economic security. And, in this case, their silence speaks volumes.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica