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Posts from the ‘Pay Equity’ Category

Behind the 8 ball

Pay Equity is a hot topic since the national pay equity win of February 1, 2012.  This much anticipated outcome followed extensive national campaigning and comes three years after the Queensland pay equity win of 2009.  Those of us fortunate enough to have employers who honoured that win in Queensland are now being fully  remunerated under the pay equity rates rolled out over the past three years.  For our colleagues around Australia and those in Queensland whose employers did not maintain the momentum of our earlier win, it will be eight years before the full financial benefit will be recognised.  However, by 2020 workers in our sector will yet again be significantly behind the 8 ball in pay equity.

Unlike many industries, the community services sector is Award driven.  As such, it is rare that pay rates or conditions above and beyond Award sanctioned commitments are offered.  This adds to the significance of this pay equity win and of the eight year roll out.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) will be advocating a reduction to the phase-in time through funding arrangements with the Federal Government.  Whilst thrilled with the win they were disappointed that the six year phase in which was already a compromise was extended to eight years.  The ASU maintains that because the wage increases awarded will be on top of the annual wage review (increase to the minimum wage and Modern Awards), the effect of the decision shouldn’t be eroded over the phase-in period.

Last year I penned other blog posts on the topic of pay equity. The price we pay when we won’t pay the price and The Cost of Not Paying the Price outlined the pay equity case; its history and issues for the sector.  I’ve been watching the movement in our industry around fair pay for years now.  I was a Manager in the NGO sector when the original SACS Award was proclaimed to introduce base wages.  I was astounded by many negative responses then and I remain so now that more equitable wages to build our sector’s workforce have been sought and won.  It is hard to fathom how an issue such as pay equity in which social and human services professionals currently being paid $45,000 per annum (way below the national average wage) and will be awarded an average of $65,000 by 2020 has created such widespread disdain.  Fortunately such antagonistic stances are balanced by enthusiastic applause from many others.

It is perplexing that such backlash includes financial analysts questioning whether or not the tax payer should foot the bill for this pay equity win.  The analysis is narrow.  Let’s not forget that this win means taking thousands of sector workers into higher tax brackets, off social housing lists and significantly reduces their reliance on welfare.  We are well aware of the social costs of our vast population of working poor.  Fair pay also enhances life opportunities for children and family members of these staff.

It has been an eye opener reading the many pages of commentary about pay equity.  Some entries endorsed the win; many were highly offended by it and considered it sexist.  One such comment in response to the many underpaid workers in the community services sector being dual degree qualified was: “A janitor with a degree is still a janitor”.  That speaks volumes about the perceptions of the work.  There appears to be a lack of public awareness that the role of social workers and human services workers is complex and highly fraught.  It requires specific qualifications, skills and on-going professional development and supervision.  The complexities of these roles and the impact such personnel have on social well-being needs to be acknowledged.  Perhaps this ignorant remark sums up why pay rates have remained so low and staff retention is such an issue for our sector?  Research shows that it is not just poor pay that drives staff from child protection and community services; it is also a lack of positive regard for and recognition of the roles undertaken.

The capacity of the child protection and social services sector to attract and retain qualified and skilled staff is waning. The need for this sector to be competitive in a market industry is evident now more than ever before.  Whilst other factors such as job satisfaction, respect for the roles and organisational culture are amongst the reasons staff stay with employers, pay rates are of significant importance in ensuring that our most vulnerable Queenslanders receive the quality support services they require.

It’s long overdue that fair pay be awarded to this sector so staunch in its advocacy for others in our community.  The fact that most workers have another eight years to wait means it’s also long overdue for sector workers to become their own advocates.

Lorraine Dupree

Policy and Research Manager – PeakCare QLD

Click here to read an update from QCOSS

Pay Equity Chapter Two

Last week saw some tumultuous activity take place in relation to pay equity that culminated on Thursday with the repealing of the original Regulation of 4th August 2011.
This should not be viewed as the end of the pay equity story however.  It is far better to regard last week’s events as the closing of one chapter and the commencement of another.

Throughout the week, PeakCare sought to ensure that our Member Agencies were provided a forum to express their differing viewpoints about the Regulation and their concerns in relation to its implementation.  We also sought to make sure that our Member Agencies were given prompt and accurate advice of the events that transpired during the week.

Thanks are extended to the numerous organisations and individuals who e-mailed or phoned to tell us their viewpoints and “real stories about paying for pay equity”.  My sincere appreciation is also extended to Ms Vanessa Walker who, at very short notice, agreed to work temporarily at PeakCare collecting and collating your stories and comments.

PeakCare Queensland remains strongly committed to the achievement of pay equity and looks forward to its properly planned and funded implementation.  In particular, PeakCare remains committed to the development of a sector that is properly resourced and staffed with a capacity to deliver high quality child protection and related services.  The right to receive high quality services is regarded as an unquestionable entitlement held by Queensland children, young people and families.

As chapter one of the pay equity story has now ended and chapter two commences, your viewpoints about its implementation remain as important as ever.  In addition to making use of this post to enter comments about your opinions and concerns, you are encouraged to also avail yourself of the opportunities being provided to:

attend the regional industrial workshops being conducted by QCOSS and NDS, and complete the surveys measuring the implications of a Pay Equity Regulation.
Farewell chapter one and welcome chapter two.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director, PeakCare Queensland

The Real Stories behind Paying for Pay Equity

At the start of this week, PeakCare Queensland wrote to our Member Agencies seeking to find out the “real stories behind paying for pay equity” so that we can properly represent these stories in our advocacy on their behalf and on behalf of the children, young people and families who are entitled to receive high quality services.

Amidst the confusion of facts and figures being contended with by organisations as they have been attempting to examine the implications of recent decisions made about the delivery of pay equity to our sector employees, PeakCare was keen to ensure that the actual hardships and dilemmas being caused to many of our Member Agencies and the children, young people and families who are the recipients of their services, were being accurately conveyed and made known to governments, the media and the general public.

Organisations were invited to email or tell us:

  • the real stories of small community-based organisations facing the heart-breaking struggle of determining whether or not it is viable for them to continue their services
  • the real stories of larger organisations faced with making decisions about which services to reduce or close down
  • the real stories of people considering the prospect of finding themselves without a job
  • the real stories of local communities, volunteers and fund-raisers dealing with the prospect of further fund-raising after having had to deal with the impact of the global financial crisis and a season of natural disasters, and
  • very importantly, the real stories of children, young people and families likely to experience the services they have been accessing services withdrawn from them.

Many of the stories we have been told are distressing.  Many have been about the dilemmas caused to organisations that have campaigned strongly for, and remain committed to, pay equity whilst dealing with the realities of its implementation.  With the permission of those who have come forward, we will be re-counting these stories as comments to this post.

Pleasingly, many organisations that have not been impacted by the recent pay equity decisions have also clearly stated their desire to support other organisations – smaller ones in particular – that have already been or may continue to be adversely affected.  These organisations are to be applauded for their sense of loyalty and commitment to the broader community service sector.

As PeakCare Queensland continues to play our part in representing the interests of our Member Agencies during the advocacy and liaison we undertake with QCOSS, other peak bodies and governments in dealing with the unquestionable rights of our sector employees to pay equity and the need for full-Government funding, your “real stories” remain important.

You may wish to add comments to this post that tells a “real story” from the perspective of your organisation’s experience or continue to email or phone Vanessa Walker, the PeakCare project officer who is collecting and collating these stories.

PeakCare Queensland respects that organisations will have a range of viewpoints and opinions about matters that are contentious and we view the capacity of our sector for engaging in honest, open and respectful debate as a strength.

My sincere thanks are extended to those organisations and individuals who have already contacted Vanessa (Phone 3368 1050; Email vwalker@peakcare.org.au) and I encourage others to come forward to tell their stories too.

Lindsay Wegener

Executive Director – Peakcare Queensland

The Price We Pay When We Won’t Pay the Price

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

Benjamin Franklin

What a long and arduous journey pay equity has been for the Queensland Community Services sector.  In 1974 the principle of equal pay for men and women was first introduced to Queensland’s industrial legislation.  Pay equity was again provided for in the Industrial Relations Act 1999 and was cemented as a priority by the Queensland Inquiry into Pay Equity by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission in 2000.

Nevertheless wages for the predominately female workforce In the Queensland Community services sector remained appallingly inadequate. The seeds of change finally appeared likely to do more than blow in the wind when the Queensland branch of the Australian Services Union together with Peak body organisations and key stakeholders in the sector ran the pay equity case.

In a landmark decision in May of 2009 the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission found that the work of the sector was undervalued for historical reasons and because it was dominated by women.  The Commission awarded pay increases of between 18 – 39 % to bring community services workers more into line with government colleagues and professionals in other sectors.   The Queensland government came on board and significantly funded the pay equity.

So finally – some 35 years post Queensland’s introduction of the pay equity principle in industrial legislation – workers in the social and community services were awarded improved pay conditions.  Not excellent pay conditions, not even highly competitive pay conditions but far more fair and reasonable pay conditions than ever before recognised in the history of the social and community service sector.

The Queensland pay equity win was historic and the cause of jubilation for the sector.  Finally the seeds of change had been planted, fertilised and well watered to ensure positive momentum for the sector with substantially increased capacity to attract and retain highly skilled staff.

Then along came the land slide that put into question the 2009 land mark decision and made it clear that perhaps our solid foundations for pay equity were not firmly rooted after all.  Quite the contrary. From 1 January 2010, the Queensland Government’s regulatory power with regard to industrial relations was transferred to the Commonwealth Government.  As a result, the Queensland Government no longer has a direct role in regulating wages and employment conditions for the majority of workers.

What did all this mean for Queensland?  It meant mass confusion and further inequity as some employers paid the new award levels based on equity and many didn’t.  It meant government releasing funding dollars for improved wages to organisations no longer mandated to pay wages under this Queensland Award and Queensland decision given the federal jurisdiction that such matters now resided within.

Enter now into the mix the National Pay Equity case.  This case is now being heard in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.  Currently underway, the hope is that a similar finding to the Queensland case will mean pay equity across the sector.  Again though this a further hoop to jump, another long wait and more uncertainty in pay equity.  And more years for workers to be grossly underpaid!!!

So where are we now?  We’re waiting…. again.  Now that the Queensland Industrial Commission have heard our case and found that wages and conditions are indeed discriminatory, we now by the virtue of transferred  industrial powers, await the national commission to do (or not to do) the same.

So WHY are we waiting?

Is it ok that after years of research and days of hearings and months of deliberation that led to the finding that conditions for workers in the Queensland community services sector are discriminatory and inadequate, that we continue with that practice?

Is it ok that many organisations funded to pay the Queensland Award pay scales to their staff passed on a different award with considerably reduced pay rates or passed on no increases at all?

Is it ok to continue to ask staff of this sector to be paid the historically low wages because there is currently nothing legally binding to force employer’s hands to fairness and equity?

All this will soon change and the enforcements will again become binding – all being well in the national pay equity case – that is.  Do we as a sector that prides itself on social justice, fairness and equity really think it is ok to ‘wait and see’ instead of acting to do what is fair and equitable for our workforce?

As a sector struggling to attract and retain staff is it not high time and long overdue for us to genuinely value and support our staff and ensure fair and equitable pay and conditions?
And perhaps most significantly:  as a sector are we prepared to carry out a practice clearly found to be discriminatory in the Queensland Industrial Commission???   WE know the practice is discriminatory – we’ve been arguing that for years.  We now have the back up of the Queensland Commission – are we really going to cop out on a technicality caused by the transfer of responsibilities from a state to a federal body?

Employers in this sector can all elect to honour the pay levels outlined by the Queensland Industrial Commission in the pay equity win.  We know that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain well qualified and skilled staff in our sector.  So the options are clear:

1.       Pay up and agree to fair wages to be competitive in putting our best foot forward in ensuring a skilled and competent workforce or

2.       Lower the standards, qualifications and skills required by our workforce to keep paying the same discriminatory and inadequate wages.

How fair is that to Queensland’s vulnerable children and families who rely on the competence and quality of our community services organisations and workers?
As Kofi Annan states: “gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every nation.”  Pay equity is a significant issue for employers and employees in the community services sector.  Decisions made here will have significant impact on the current and future quality of service delivery across Queensland.

Lorraine Dupree – Policy and Research Manager, PeakCare

The date of our National Day of Action is Wednesday, 8th of June. Watch PeakCare’s website for more information!