Australia’s gender pay equity legislation: how new, how different, what prospects?

Australia’s equal pay laws have recently been renovated through the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 and the Fair Work Act 2009. In light of these changes, it is timely to ask how effective Australia’s legislative approach is likely to be for progressing pay equity. This article presents an analysis of Australia’s current equal pay provisions, assessing their potential on the basis of their operation to date and through recent experience in Canada and the UK. Although focused on outcomes, we argue that Australia’s new workplace-based mechanism under the Workplace Gender Equality Act may prove relatively ineffective in both diagnosing and remedying pay inequality. In comparative perspective the Fair Work Act provisions provide significant capacity to improve pay equity across large sectors of the labour market. To date the use of these provisions point to some practical limitations in realising this potential. Moreover, the inadequate legislative and policy integration between labour market, sectoral, workplace and individual approaches together with a wavering political commitment to equality legislation generally suggest gender pay inequity will remain a persistent feature of Australian employment.