The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 (Bill), recently introduced into Parliament, aims to improve gender equality in the workplace and workforce participation, particularly in relation to women and workers with family and caring responsibilities. The Bill amends the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Act) (to be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012).
What does this mean for employers?
The Bill will have broader application to employers than the current Act (which only places reporting requirements on ASX listed companies) and will cover:
- higher education institutions; and
- all non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees (‘relevant employers’).
Relevant employers will be required to report on ‘gender equality indicators’, including:
- gender composition of the workforce and governing bodies (e.g. boards);
- remuneration levels for men and women;
- the availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible work arrangements; and
- consultation with employees on workplace gender equality issues.
- Employers, shareholders and unions, as well as employees, will be involved in achieving improved gender equality in the workplace.
- The new reporting requirements will be phased with limited reporting required for the period 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 and full reporting from 31 March 2013.
- Consequences of non-compliance include being ‘named and shamed’ in the media, and being ineligible to compete for Commonwealth contracts, or receive Commonwealth grants or other financial assistance.
Background to changes in brief
The proposed changes are intended to address the failure of existing measures to close the gender gap in Australian workplaces. This is particularly evident in the gender pay gap in Australia, which shows that women working full time earn just under 18% less than men working full time.
The focus has moved from reporting on ‘workplace plans’ (which cannot easily be measured) to reporting on tangible gender equality indicators, including actual figures on gender composition and specific information on employment conditions and work practices in place to achieve gender equality.
In addition to the new reporting requirements, the Government will also increase compliance with the new legislation by spot checking workplaces to make sure that their reporting is accurate. Public reports will now need to be signed off by the company’s CEO, ensuring that management at the highest level is aware of the nature and extent of any gender equality issues in their workplace.
The changes aim to improve transparency of the compliance framework, including by requiring that the reports be made available to employees, unions and other employee organisations, and shareholders. Employers will no longer be able to hide gender inequality from affected or interested parties.
The new regime will be monitored by the Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (to be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency) (Agency). The Director’s ability to exempt certain organisations from the requirement to report on gender equality in their workplace will be removed.
The Senate referred the Bill to the Education, Employment & Workplace Relations Committee which will report on 8 May 2012.
Tips for employers:
- ASX listed companies are already required to have and report on diversity policies to improve gender diversity in the workforce, particularly at senior levels.
- Non-listed entities caught by the new rules should now also consider implementing a diversity policy and making this issue a standing Board agenda item.
- Diversity measures to be considered could include implementation of equal opportunity policies, providing access to education and training programs, enhanced parental leave schemes, subsidised childcare, mentoring programmes and target recruitment percentages at graduate and senior management levels.
- Assuming the Bill is passed, relevant employers should prepare the information required to be disclosed under the new reporting requirements for the 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013 reporting period. Reports for this reporting period must be provided to the Agency by 31 May 2013, and thereafter on 31 May of each year.