On 1 March 2012, the Senate referred the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 (the Bill) to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 8 May 2012.
The Report of the Committee has been released and may be viewed HERE .
The Committee has recommended that the Bill be passed, although disappointingly, there is dissent by the Coalition members on the Committee, who advocate for a voluntary, incentive based approach to gender equity, despite the fact that the gap in gender equity has been increasing.
The Purpose of the Legislation
The Bill seeks to amend the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (the Act) to reflect a proposed new focus of the Act on improving gender equality in the workplace. Specific recognition is made of equality in remuneration and the centrality of family responsibilities to the achievement of gender equality. The following proposed amendments reflect this focus:
The Bill also seeks to change the name of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (the Agency) and the title of the Director of the Agency to the Director of Workplace Gender Equality.
Findings of the Committee:
The Committee found these reforms within the Bill did aim to strengthen the laws and institutions that promote gender equality in Australia's workplaces. While the Committee heard and carefully considered calls from some industry representatives to focus on providing incentives for employers to address gender equality issues rather than legislating for action, it noted that incentives for employers to comply do exist, however, in the form of long term productivity benefits, workplace harmony and the opportunity to tender for Commonwealth contracts. These incentives have been in place for some time, yet progress on gender equality outcomes has stagnated.
On the balance of evidence the Committee was of the view that it appears unlikely that significant improvements to the status quo would be made in the absence of legislative action.
The Committee was of the view that strengthening the capacity of both the Act and the Agency to foster gender equality in the workplace is crucial if persistent gaps in outcomes are to be addressed. If passed, the Bill would promote a regulatory environment focused on tangible gender equality outcomes through the setting of attainable standards and effective monitoring and support by the Agency.
The Committee recommended that the Bill be passed.