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Wage equality

1972: Equal pay for men and women

Noel Butlin Archives Centre/Australian National University Archives
1900 2000

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Why do you think women were paid less than men for the same work before the 1970s? (You might think of more than one reason)

2. Why do you think female workers still earn less on average than male workers? (You might think of more than one reason, and can find some help on the Australian Human Rights Commission website)

Human Rights Commission

3. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the granting of equal pay for women is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Equal pay protest, Melbourne Town Hall, 20 February 1969</p>
Laurie Richards Studio, Museums Victoria. Australian Services Union

In a snapshot

Women fought to be paid the same wages as male workers from the early 1900s. But it was not until 1972 that the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (ACAC) granted women equal pay for work of equal value. This was an important step towards equality between the sexes. However the average income of Australian women is still less than the male average.

Equal pay protest, Melbourne Town Hall, 20 February 1969

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. Before the 1970s what did women in paid work usually have to do when they got married?

2. How did the 1972 decision change women’s wages in Australia?

3. What was the wage gap between men and women in 2012?

How were women workers treated before the 1970s?

During the Second World War (1939–45) many Australian women joined the workforce. Men had gone overseas to fight, so women filled their roles on farms and in factories and offices. These women were often paid two-thirds (or even less) of the wages that men were paid for the same work. Women were also usually forced to resign from their jobs when they married.

A handmade badge reading ‘Equal Pay Year 1986’.

Women fought for better pay. In 1943 their lobbying led the Australian Government to grant women 75 per cent of the male wage for performing the same job. But after the war when men returned from fighting, many women left the workforce or had to return to lower paying jobs.

Some countries legislated for equal pay for men and women in the 1940s: France in 1946 and Germany in 1949. Also, in 1951 and 1954, the United Nations called for all member countries to legislate for wage equality.

Both men and women in Australia took part in protests calling on the Australian Government to make equal pay the law.

<p>‘So you thought there was equal pay?’ poster</p>

National Museum of Australia

<p>‘So you thought there was equal pay?’ poster</p>

‘The principle of “equal pay for work of equal value” will be applied to all awards of the Commission. By “equal pay for work of equal value” we mean the fixation of award wage rates by a consideration of the work performed irrespective of the sex of the worker.’

ACAC ruling on the National Wage and Equal Pay cases, 1972

What changes were made in 1969?

Pressure from protesters and trade unions increased in the 1960s. In 1969 the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (ACAC), the organisation that set wages, raised the female wage to 85 per cent of the male wage. Men were still paid more because it was believed that men needed extra money to provide for their families.

As part of this decision, some women were granted equal pay, but only if they were doing exactly the same work as men in traditionally male jobs. Most women did not work in these types of jobs.

Research task

 

In 1984 the Australian Parliament passed the Sex Discrimination Act. How did this legislation help to further improve women’s rights at work? Hint: the Sex Discrimination Act is another defining moment and you can read about it here:

1984 Sex Discrimination Act

How was equal pay made law in 1972?

Trade unions continued to argue for equal pay, and in 1972 the newly elected Whitlam Labor government also supported equal pay. Because of this political pressure the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission reviewed its 1969 decision.

In 1972 the Commission ruled that women and men who did similar work with similar value would be given the same pay. This meant that women didn’t have to prove that they were doing exactly the same work as men, but that their work had a similar value in society as traditionally male jobs.

Research task

 

Look at this t-shirt, which is a part of the National Museum’s collection, and read the text underneath it:

(a) When was the Women’s Electoral Lobby set up?

(b) What kinds of changes were the Women’s Electoral Lobby campaigning for?

National Museum of Australia

Has equal pay been achieved?

The 1972 decision was an important step towards equality between men and women in the workforce, but today there is still a wage gap between their average earnings. In 2012 Australian women still earned about 17 per cent less than the average male wage.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. Before the 1970s what did women who were in paid work usually have to do when they got married?

2. How did the 1972 decision change women’s wages in Australia?

3. What was the wage gap between men and women in 2012?