Together, women are an indomitable force

On the 8th March we will celebrate International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the direct impact women have had on the working conditions WA’s public sector workers enjoy today.

Women are often under-represented in the celebrated history of the labour movement. Until only a few decades ago most women stayed at home, while men helped pioneer workers’ rights over picket lines and strike actions, forming Australia’s Unions.

In WA, it was women working in the public service that secured many of the conditions public servants have today. In the early 1990’s WA’s public service had a very different profile.

Every Department and even agency had its own agreement, resulting in hundreds of agreements throughout the public sector. Each department also facilitated its own bargaining, meaning over the years a significant gap developed between government workers pay and entitlements in different agencies.

The CPSU/CSA commenced a ground-breaking study into these differences, and the result was one of the biggest gender pay gaps ever found. We discovered the variation between government workers on the same level at different agencies could be up to 30%.

Guess who the lower paid workers always were? Women.

The CPSU/CSA study confirmed that agencies dominated by men, such as Finance or Main Roads, got paid up to 30% more than agencies dominated by women, such as education or child protection.

It was found that while men traded out conditions for higher pay, women sacrificed pay increases to keep their working conditions family friendly.

Men had the luxury of being able to exchange shorter hours, flexi-time and leave entitlements for more money but women, as primary care-givers, held onto these entitlements, making sure their families were also looked after.

In 2001, the Gallop Labor Government replaced hundreds of Agreements, with a general Agreement for all general government workers. The consolidation process meant the far-ranging disparities in conditions and pay of workers on the same level would now be made even, a process which took over three years to conclude.

While those who were on a high pay scale, took small pay increases and gained better leave and working hours, those who were on a low-level pay, got higher pay increases while maintaining the conditions they held steadfast on for decades.

The result was that the WA public service had a fairer system for working women who needed to keep their family friendly conditions, but also helped address the considerable gender pay gap that had been created over previous decades.

Today, flexible leave and working hours are important conditions for men and women who are taking care of their families while working. Those conditions exist because largely women workforces stood together during agreement negotiations to hold onto them while sacrificing the higher pay of their male equivalents to do so.

Together, women are an indomitable force. Happy International Women’s Day.