Why women need to lead for better remuneration and working conditions

The culture of education systems and their management structures, wages, working conditions and organisational practices transmit strong messages about the value placed on the contribution and participation of women.

Australia is not performing well when it comes to gender equity. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index ranks Australia 44th out of 153 countries (New Zealand ranks 6th) and has dropped five places in two years. According to the forum’s report, gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether economies and societies thrive.

From an historical perspective this is related to the way domestic and care work were not recognised or included in the early economic models. Activities traditionally undertaken by women such as raising children and feeding the family were not seen to create tangible goods that could be bought, traded or sold.

The early economists decided that such undertakings didn’t contribute to productivity or prosperity and, consequently, that pronouncement has had a sustained negative impact on the value placed on, and wages within, industries where there are more women.

It is increasingly clear that the COVID- 19 crisis has had a disproportionate effect on women. All the evidence suggests that women’s long-term economic and financial security and workforce participation has been seriously jeopardised.

The Valuing the Teaching Profession — an independent inquiry identified loudly and clearly that the work of teachers is undervalued and underpaid. The last review into the workload and salaries of teachers took place in 2004 and since that time our salaries and status have declined compared with other professions.

Australia has one the highest rates of occupational gender segregation in the world and it’s well known that when an industry is considered “feminised” the pay is lower. This is exacerbated by the fact that unpaid care work is a significant part of Australian society and the economy, with the bulk of caring work undertaken by women.

More than 70 per cent of the teaching workforce in NSW are women so, given all of the historical factors and attitudes, it’s no coincidence that the status and remuneration of the profession is less than it ought to be. Moreover, the assumption that teachers will undertake additional work without commensurate time or pay is an extension of the “unpaid care economy” expectation and is unacceptable.

Among the key recommendations of the inquiry is a rise in salary of between 10 and 15 per cent to recognise the increase in skills and responsibilities of teachers. Other recommendations refer to time, resources and staffing (including more permanent positions).

Act towards positive change
On Equal Pay Day in August, we asked members to join the union’s campaign to shift the undervalued and underpaid status of the teaching profession. As Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Mary Wooldridge said: “The work of Australian women deserves to be equally and fairly valued in our workplaces as a basic principle.

“The gender pay gap signifies that the work of women is still not treated as being of equal value to that of men. As the 2021 Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre-WGEA research report reveals, the sobering reality is that, on current trends, it will take 26 years to close the total remuneration gender pay gap.”

Women have a vital role to play in Federation’s More than Thanks campaign, seeking to increase the salary and status of the profession and to improve the working conditions for teachers. We must be active participants, and leaders, where decisions are being made. Talk to your colleagues and ask them to show their support for action on the inquiry’s recommendations and demand more than thanks.