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EXCLUSIVE: Tanya Plibersek on why we have to close the gender pay gap

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sounds off on this important issue.

By Tanya Plibersek

When Lisa Wilkinson made the shock announcement that she had quit The Today Show after 10 years on the breakfast program, it brought the gender pay gap in Australia back to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

In Channel Nine’s statement about Lisa’s departure, the network said, “Nine today confirmed we have been unable to meet the expectations of Lisa Wilkinson and her manager on a contract renewal for a further period… Nine will be going in another direction and will be considering our options in the coming weeks and months.”

Reports said Lisa’s co-host Karl Stefanovic was getting paid $2 million a year — with a deal on the cards to bump that up to $3 million — while Lisa was reportedly earning $1.1 million.

A talent like Lisa was never going to be without work for long, but it was merely moments after she announced she was leaving Nine that she revealed she had already signed a new deal with Channel Ten, to work across The Project. Her new pay cheque is reported to be over $2 million a year.

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has worked with Cosmo a number of times on the issue of gender pay equity.

Here, she writes exclusively for Cosmo about why the gender pay gap has to close.

This week, Lisa Wilkinson has shone the national spotlight on Australia’s problem with gender pay inequity. In refusing to accept lower pay than her male co-anchor, Lisa courageously took a stand for equal pay for equal work. I applaud her for doing it.

But the truth of the situation is that most women don’t have the power and privilege to be able to walk away from an employer who is discriminating against them.

Often, quitting in protest could mean unemployment.

Instead, many women just bear it. Or, they don’t even know it’s happening in the first place.

Lisa Wilkinson was able to take a stand because she knew she wasn’t getting a fair deal. But Australia still has pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts — banning workers from telling their colleagues what they get paid. Pay secrecy clauses only make sense to me if a company has something to hide.

During a Senate Inquiry into pay secrecy clauses last year, Australia’s companies and industry groups fought hard against pay transparency and the Turnbull Government backed them in.

Hiding pay gaps in your organisation — having pay gaps in your organisation — is straight up unacceptable.

But the most serious gender inequity in Australia is not in executive pay.

What worries me is that “women’s work” is valued less.

To quote Christine Lagarde, ‘If a woman is doing it or saying it — it is just not as important.’

A woman working in a female-dominated industry on average earns almost $40,000 less each year than a man in a male dominated industry.

A lot of these women, on low to middle incomes, are also struggling with the cuts to penalty rates which disproportionately impact women.

To close the gender pay gap, we need to be fighting for pay equity for these women.

The gender pay gap has barely changed over the last two decades.

Earlier this year, a Federal Government agency told Parliament that Australia is 50 years away from closing the pay gap.

We can’t wait that long. The gender pay gap won’t fix itself.

We need to restore penalty rates. We need to make sure the workplace relations system is equipped to address the undervaluation of women’s work. We need to support pay transparency. And we need firm commitment to end gender pay inequity once and for all.