AUSTRALIA’S SECURE JOBS BETTER PAY ACT: A GENDER FOCUS
4 Apr 2023
Australia has enacted extensive workplace relations reforms with a strong focus on gender equality. The Secure Jobs Better Pay Act 2022 introduces a range of important changes to Australia’s workplace relations system.
Secure work and gender equality
The principles of job security and gender equality have now been embedded in the objects of Australia’s workplace relations legislation – the Fair Work Act 2009. This means the objectives of secure work and gender equality must be taken into account when the workplace relations tribunal – the Fair Work Commission – performs its functions, such as reviewing and setting minimum wages.
Previous barriers preventing the workplace relations system from effectively tackling the gender-based undervaluation of work have been removed, supporting the Fair Work Commission to order wage increases where appropriate. The changes clarify that the Fair Work Commission’s consideration of work value must be free from gender-based assumptions, and that it can consider broader comparisons between occupations and industries when hearing equal remuneration matters.
Two new expert panels for Pay Equity and the Care and Community Sector, and a dedicated research unit, will be established within the Fair Work Commission. New members with specific expertise in gender pay equity, anti-discrimination, and the care and community sector will sit on the Panels. These changes will ensure the proper knowledge, expertise, resources, and evidence is applied to effectively hear complex and technical pay equity claims and relevant award variation applications.
Stronger protections against discrimination and workplace sexual harassment
Gender identity, intersex status, and breastfeeding have been added to the list of protected attributes in Australia’s workplace relations legislation. Workers who experience discrimination based on these attributes will now have access to the Fair Work Commission’s fast, low-cost dispute resolution processes.
An express prohibition on sexual harassment in connection with work has also been added to the Fair Work Act, supported by a new dispute resolution process for workers to bring disputes about sexual harassment to the Fair Work Commission. The Commission may deal with such disputes in various ways, including by making a stop sexual harassment order to prevent further sexual harassment of a worker, prospective worker or person conducting a business or undertaking.
Pay transparency, parental leave, and flexible work
A new prohibition on pay secrecy clauses will provide employees with a positive right to disclose (or not) their remuneration and protect them from adverse action if they do. These changes are aimed at reducing discrimination and the gender pay gap by enabling employees to understand and gather more information about their remuneration.
From 6 June 2023, strengthened rights to request flexible working arrangements and extensions to unpaid parental leave will assist eligible employees to negotiate workplace flexibilities that suit both them and their employer. The changes legislate a fair and transparent process for responding to employee requests, and increase access to Fair Work Commission dispute resolution including conciliation, mediation or mandatory arbitration if the matter cannot be resolved at the workplace level.