Australia's gender pay gap hits record high

Date

Belinda Merhab

Australia's gender pay gap has blown out to a record high, new figures show, as the pay equality debate fires up following actress Patricia Arquette's impassioned Oscars speech.

The gender pay gap has stretched to 18.8 per cent, with the average ordinary full-time earnings for men rising to $1,587.50 a week - $298.10 more per week than their female counterparts.

It's the biggest pay gap since the Australian Bureau of Statistics began collecting the data in 1994, ACTU President Ged Kearney says.

Thursday's figures come as a growing band of celebrities and politicians, including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, weigh into the debate following Monday's Oscars ceremony, when Arquette used her acceptance speech to call for wage equality, rousing wild cheers from the audience, including screen legend Meryl Streep.

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It also follows the Abbott government's announcement on Wednesday that it would water down gender reporting requirements for private organisations.

Laws introduced by Labor in 2012 require businesses with 100 or more employees to report details about the gender breakdown of its workforce and remuneration for men and women.

Extra gender reporting requirements were due to apply from April 1 covering job applications, interviews, CEO salaries and parental leave but the government now wants to scrap those.

"Why are we having policies right now that are taking us backwards?" Ms Kearney said.

"We have to force businesses to take a serious look at how they treat women in their workforce - some of the big banks have done this and they realised women are dramatically underrepresented in the career structure, that they are paid less."

Ms Kearney said cultural change was needed.

"Female dominated industries get paid abysmally and as a society, we really need to look at that and say, `why do we undervalue them so much and pay them so much less'?" she said.

"We still haven't addressed things like women getting paid their full salaries on maternity leave, or the fact that when women do return from parental leave that they are often demoted.

"We know that it's women predominantly who take time off work for caring responsibilities, and it's women who unfortunately, in many industries, are overlooked for career development and promotion."

Jenna Price, co-founder of feminist action group Destroy the Joint, said the pay gap was "appalling" and would continue to widen unless cultural and policy changes were made, including punitive action against offending organisations.

The government's constant talk of a "budget disaster" had done nothing to encourage business to evolve, she said.

"The constant message of this government is that there's a `budget disaster' - that's not good encouragement for businesses to take their business in a different direction, so they go for a traditional, safe response," she said.

"Until we have commitment from both government and businesses to make a determined shift, the gap will remain or will expand."

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver said the construction boom may be to blame for the pay gap blow out.

"Jobs are being created in construction at the moment, that's where the jobs growth is, so that's where the wages growth is, so that could have the effect of increasing the average wage gap," he said.

AAP bm/gfr