Morrison government failing women with lack of action on gender inequality in workforce, ACTU says

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA</span>
Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

Australian women are still being failed, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil says, with falls in employment, and standards yet to be addressed.

The ACTU is ramping up its gender campaign after last week’s unemployment figures which showed women continued to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s impact on the economy, compared to men.

Between May and August, 90,000 women had lost their jobs, compared to 25,000 men, while in New South Wales alone, nearly two-thirds of all jobs lost since the lockdown began in June, had been held by women.

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Women were more likely to drop out of the labour force altogether – meaning they would not be counted in employment statistics – with 4.1% of women in NSW no longer looking for work, compared to 2.8% of men.

The latest figures continue the trend identified in the 2020 ABS gender indicators report, which found women aged 20-74 were almost three times as likely as men to be working part-time.

O’Neil said women still in the workforce had also been let down, with the government “missing the opportunity” to legislate more protections based on recommendations from the sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report.

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“The Morrison government is overseeing a faltering recovery which is entrenching insecurity and gender inequality in the Australian workforce,” O’Neil said.

“Women are more likely to be losing work than men, and are also more likely to have fallen out of the workforce entirely during the lockdown period. The amount of time women spend caring has increased as has family and domestic violence.

“Action is urgently needed from the Morrison government to address insecure work – which disproportionately affects women – as well as sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.”

The treasurer Josh Frydenberg has pointed to the recovery made by the labour market and the economy after the last major lockdowns, which included women returning to the workforce as evidence that both will see a bounceback once Australia reopens.

The ACTU is hoping to push the government into further action on the Respect@Work report, with a key focus on making the recommendation which sought to create “substantive equality between women and men” a concrete objective of legislation.

Related: Australia has a chance to make workplaces safer, but Morrison is ignoring key rights women fought hard to achieve | Michele O’Neil

“The recovery from this pandemic should be an opportunity to reshape the Australian workforce to provide more secure work, safer workplaces and equal rights for working women,” O’Neil said.

“The Morrison government has categorically failed to take this opportunity.”

The Morrison government defended its legislation, which passed in the last sitting of parliament, despite only legislating six of the 55 recommendations in the report.

Attempts by Labor and the Greens to legislate the need for employers to take active steps to prevent sexual harassment were voted down by the government and key crossbenchers, but the government did make sexual harassment a valid reason for dismissal in its bill.

It also extended the time in which someone could make a complaint from six months to two years, to address those who were afraid speaking up could damage their careers.

Attorney general Michaelia Cash said the legislation was not the final word from the government on the report, and it was continuing to consult on how it could make further changes.

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