Australian businesses with more than 100 employees will have greater reporting and compliance responsibilities under changes announced on Wednesday, 9 March 2011 to the Commonwealth's equal opportunity laws.

Changes to reporting for businesses

The reporting laws will only apply to organisations with more than 100 employees, but there will be no exceptions – the EOWA Director will no longer be able to waive the reporting requirement.

Employers will be required to report:

  • on the gender composition of their boards; and
  • against a set of gender equality indicators, focusing on outcomes for women and men in the workplace.

These reports must be signed off on by CEOs and employee representatives, and made available to employees and shareholders.

A secure web portal will be developed, allowing online reporting.

Although reporting will now be mandatory, the requirement for organisations to develop workplace programs will be removed.

What's the price of non-compliance?

Industry-level benchmarks, and demonstrating progress over time, will be important elements of compliance.

There will be three main sticks for ensuring compliance by business:

  • naming and shaming: non-compliant organisations will be named in Parliament and more widely;
  • no Government business: the Government will only deal with organisations which comply with the Act; and
  • ineligible for Government assistance: non-compliant organisations cannot receive Government-funded grants or industry assistance.

Changes in names and roles

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 will be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Act, and will expand in scope to cover women and men, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities. Its objectives will also expand, to acknowledge pay equity and the caring responsibilities of both women and men as central to gender equality.

Likewise, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency will become the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and its powers and responsibilities will be expanded, including developing industry-level benchmarks and industry-specific strategies for achieving equality.

New investigation powers for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

The newly renamed Workplace Gender Equality Agency will be able to conduct organisational reviews to make sure reports are accurate, and make regular spot checks on the accuracy of the information organisations provide to it.

Next steps

The Government has indicated that the bill to implement these reforms will be introduced into Parliament this year, and a start date for reporting sometime in 2013, although it's unclear when the other changes would commence.

The new legislation will contain transitional arrangements to ensure that reporting organisations have time to adapt to the new framework.

It is also expected that there will be some consultation over some of these reforms.

We will be continuing to monitor these developments.