On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shot down Labor’s plans to publicly release pay gap data in Australian companies of over 1000 staff, citing the creation of “tensions” and “conflict” in the workplace.
“You’ve got to think through this as to how that will play out on the actual ground; what will that mean? Will people in companies, when they look at each side of each other, from desk to desk, go: ‘Did I not get a pay rise, because you got one?’” the Prime Minister said on Sunday.
But a number of experts on the gender pay gap have expressed that reporting on the numbers would be a step towards gender pay equality, not backwards.
‘Women have been asked to be polite for too long’, says USYD academic
University of Sydney senior lecturer and researcher into women in the workforce Elizabeth Hill told Yahoo Finance that the response the Prime Minister offered to Labor’s proposals was “a very poor reason not to release the data on the pay gap,” pointing out that this was in relation to companies with over a thousand employees.
“Transparency is everything,” she said, adding that politicians and industry leaders needed to match their goodwill with their actions. “Transparency and reporting – public reporting of the pay data – is a really positive step.”
She said that the women of Australia had been “asked to be polite for too long”.
“Time’s up and it’s time for industry, for managers, to be transparent about what they’re paying men and women.
“This has every chance of really putting industry on notice and to stop the sustained practice of paying men and women who are often doing very similar roles for different rates of pay.”
‘Tension is good’
And what of Morrison’s concerns of added tension in the workplace? “That’s good,” Hill said.
“Already there’s a bit of tension,” she argued. “Women already know men are being paid more than them … not always, but often.
“The secrecy is one problem.
“[Removing this is] not going to solve the gender pay gap, but it is an important move towards making a real dent in the gender pay gap to the extent that it’s informed by the requirement that employees don’t share their pay data with one another.”
“What’s [Prime Minister Scott Morrison] afraid of?” she asked. “Why would we be afraid of taking action that is going to partly reform [the gender pay gap]?”
“It’s not the whole solution, but part of the solution.”
WGEA: Transparency will inspire action
A spokesperson for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) told Yahoo Finance that no single mechanism on its own would narrow the gender pay gap, but indicated that heightened transparency would have a positive impact.
“Research shows that examining and reporting on workplace gender pay gaps can prompt employers to take action to address pay gaps within their organisations.”
Pointing to findings from the 2018 Gender Equity Insights Report, the spokesperson said: “Actions to correct gender pay gaps are three times more effective when combined with reporting pay gap data to their executive or board.
“These organisations saw an average reduction of 3.3 percentage points in their organisation-wide gender pay gap in one year.”
WGEA already receives information about pay gap data from big companies. Under a Labor government, they would be required to publish this data.
Tension is ‘possible’, but the benefits outweigh the detriments: UniSA academic
University of South Australia senior lecturer and gender pay gap expert Yoshio Yanadori said Morrison’s stance of tension in the workplace was “possible”.
“The argument is possible, especially if the pay information about how much is paid to each employee is shared among employees. I’m sure employees compare their pay with colleagues,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“And that creates, probably, a type of tension, and employees may feel they’re competing against their colleagues. That’s possible.
“But … my view is, given the seriousness of the gender pay gap and [that it] has not been resolved in more than 20 years, I think taking action such as [making] pay information public has more advantages than disadvantages.”