On 17 September 2015, the Australian Greens introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2015 (Bill) to the Federal Parliament. The Bill proposes to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 to remove restrictions on employees’ rights to disclose the amount of, or information about, their pay or earnings and prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees for disclosing this information.
On 15 October 2015, the Senate referred the inquiry into the Bill to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee (Committee) and it is due to issue a report by 12 May 2016. The Committee called for submissions in relation to the Bill. In February, Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) made a submission in relation to the draft bill: Senate inquiry submission into the Fair Work Amendment (Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2015
VWL supports efforts to address the gender pay gap through law reform. We are particularly concerned about the substantial gender pay gap in the legal industry and considers that the current lack of transparency within the private sector contributes to this gap. However, VWL also recognises that the issue is multi-factorial and is influenced by social factors, discrimination including unconscious bias, and pay negotiation models. VWL hopes that any legislative change in relation to this issue will be part of a broader policy response to address gender discrimination in the workplace.
Specifically, VWL endorses the text of the Bill as drafted and supports the purpose of the Bill to void and make unenforceable any clause that seeks to restrict an employee’s ability to discuss their remuneration. We believe that the government has an important role to play in facilitating the cultural change needed to bring about female participation and equal pay, including through the passing of this Bill.
To enhance the protection that the Bill proposes to afford women in the workplace, we submitted that consideration should also be given to introducing a civil remedy provision to deter employers from including ‘pay gag’ clauses in contracts and to require employers to take steps to prevent their employees from being misled as to the effectiveness of such clauses that may otherwise appear in an employment contract. In particular, young and inexperienced workers may not be aware of their workplace rights and obligations.
Importantly, we also submitted that the Bill should be supported by a national educational campaign to raise awareness of these legislative changes once the amendment is passed, to ensure its impact is far-reaching and effective.
The Bill was introduced and read for the first time in the Senate on 17 September 2015, sponsored by Greens Senator Larissa Waters. The Bill is currently before the Senate. Submissions to the Committee’s inquiry closed on 17 February 2016 and the Committee is due to report on its findings by 12 May 2016.