Comparing childcare work to male jobs holds women’s wages back

“The commission has since overturned the important success we had in not needing a male comparator to set new rates, reverting our laws to the same principles that have held us back for 30 years,” her written speech says. “This is why the case for early childhood educators last year was rejected and why the laws on equal pay need to change.

“The Labor Party’s announcements committed to fixing this is the only answer, along with reforming the work of the commission by establishing a pay equity panel.”

Ms McManus told The Sydney Morning Herald that the male comparator was the reason pay equity cases have continued to “crash into rocks”.

“It is impossible to find a job that is the same that you can say is comparable,” she said.

Speaking at a book launch for Winning for Women by Iola Matthews, the ACTU’s first female industrial officer,  Ms McManus said the trailblazer was once accused of manufacturing a communist plot to break up marriages by arguing for female co-drivers in the truck industry.

“Iola beat the sexists in the 1980s and we will beat them today,” Ms McManus said.

“When she was building Australia’s childcare system, one member of the National Party said women should stay at home, and that children should not be raised in “some socialised, Russianised-type child-minding centre set up at the factory door,” Ms McManus said.


Education Minister Dan Tehan has described Labor’s childcare policy as a “fast track to a socialist, if not communist economy”.

Sara Charlesworth, Professor of gender, work and regulation at RMIT University in Melbourne, said the Fair Work Commission’s requirement of a male comparator in the childcare case ignored the fact that men and women work in different occupations. She said the male comparator concept was not a provision within the Fair Work Act.

Ms Charlesworth said a better approach would be to make gender pay equity an explicit object of the act which does not include any provision requiring a male comparator.

“It needs to be made crystal clear that equal remuneration is about gender-based undervaluation and that principle should be set out in such a way that we never find ourselves again in a position of requiring a male-based comparator,” she said.

Rae Cooper, professor of gender, work and employment relations at the University of Sydney, said the male comparator had provided “no benefit for women in feminised sectors”.

“I think that principle is broken for us relying on wage increases in highly feminised sectors,” she said.

Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.

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