How Far We've Come with NGS Super - WWII and the fight for equal pay

Part 2: WWII and the fight for equal pay

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It's 1939 - set the scene for me.
Well, Europe is on the brink of war. Australia was still reeling from the Great Depression, and the devastating Black Saturday Fires that occurred earlier in the year. And then on 3 September, PM Robert Menzies announced we were going to war with Germany.

What happened next?
With only about 3,500 soldiers in the Australian Army, there was a significant push to encourage men to enlist. However, the country still needed to function, and many were against the idea of women stepping into 'men's work'.

Which meant... 
Although there was a desperate need for soldiers, not all men were eligible for service, especially those who held jobs considered essential. Like Bob Martin, who delivered ice blocks to residential homes in Brisbane for a living.

Gotcha. So how does the gender pay gap come into this? 
Well, everything changed in 1941 when Japan entered the war. John Curtin had just become PM, and he referred to it as 'our darkest hour'. We needed more men to enlist, which meant that men like Bob were asked to enlist. This left essential industries like food and munitions production struggling for male workers.

So it was 'hello ladies'? 
Exactly. Emma Martin and others like her stepped up to fill their husband's roles. And organisations like the Australian Women's Land Army were formed to combat shortages in farming. These jobs were dubbed 'victory jobs', but they came with a catch: women would have to leave once the men returned from overseas.

What about their pay?
No surprise here - women were paid poorly. Around 2-3rds or less of the male wage for doing the same job.

Sounds unfair...
It was. Finally, in 1943, the government agreed to establish the Women's Employment Board. It was short-lived, but it managed to secure women an average of 75% of the male wage for the same job.

So still no equal pay?
Unfortunately not. But it did help pave the way for around a 3rd of Australian women to join the paid workforce by the end of WWII.

And when the war ended?
Aussie men returned from overseas, and most women were made to leave the paid workforce or return to lower-paying jobs. It would take another generation before equal pay became a reality in Australia.

Where are we today?

It's illegal to pay women and men different amounts for the same work in Australia. 

The not-so-great news: The gender pay gap, which is the difference in the average earnings of full-time working Aussie men and women, still stands at 13.3%. That's from figures released by the ABS last month.

Why it's important: It means, on average, women will earn less over their lifetime, have fewer savings and less in superannuation.

The numbers:
• $254 - the average difference in weekly earnings between men and women working full-time in Australia. That adds up to an average yearly gap of $13,182.

• 22.8% - the gender pay gap calculated by Australia's Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). WGEA calculates their gender pay gap using data from the Employer Census of more than 4 million working Aussies and includes total remuneration, part-time and casual employees.

• 2 - the number of times more likely men are to be in the top income bracket compared with women. And when it comes to being the boss, women occupy around 22% of the top spots.

Where to from here?

• More than half of all Aussie workers are employed in industries that are dominated by one gender. The lowest paying ones are female-dominated industries, like aged care and early childhood education. Our new federal government has promised to help raise award rates in these industries.

• And when it comes to the highest paying industries, they tend to be in industries that involve science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM). Despite making up over half of all university graduates, women accounted for 36% of STEM graduates in 2022.

• There are a couple of reasons why this is the case, but a phrase that gets thrown around a lot is 'unconscious bias'. If you're looking for an explainer on the topic, here's one we found helpful.

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