Wage gap widens in Australia’s construction industry

To bring attention to the widening gender wage disparity in the construction industry and beyond, August 31 is Equal Pay Day, recognising the additional 61 days a woman must work to earn the same amount as a man – three more days than last year.

For women in Australia’s construction industry however, the gap is much wider – the second-highest in Australia in fact, at 26.1 per cent. Women in construction earn on average $36,361 per annum less. 

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) National Chair, Kristine Scheul, said, “While we recognise Equal Pay Day on 31 August this year, for many women working in construction, we must work at least another month more before we catch up with our male colleagues.”

Like the national pay gap, the gap in construction is also widening – up one per cent from the year before – raising questions about why the industry seems to be going backwards.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay. Equal pay for equal work was enshrined in the Fair Work Act 2009 making it illegal to not provide equal pay to employees performing work of equal or comparable value. 

The gender pay gap is not just about equal wages. It measures women’s economic position compared with that of men, and specifically measures the impact of both conscious and unconscious gender discrimination in the workforce. 

For the construction industry, some reasons for the gap include discrimination in hiring, starting salaries, promotions and pay rises, undervaluing women’s competencies, the motherhood penalty impacting career progression and lack of workplace flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities. 

Ms Scheul said, “It is little wonder that the industry is finding it challenging to recruit women and even if they do, having them stay. Why would women want to stay in an industry where it appears they are not valued as highly as their male colleagues?

“Through the development of our strategic plan, NAWIC is seeking to break down why our industry is finding it so difficult to increase the number of women participating in the industry and then assist women and industry to resolve those issues holding them back. 

“We recognise that in most instances, the discrimination experienced by women is not intentional. But equally, not actively seeking to do something about it has the same effect.

“This is why NAWIC calls on the construction industry to ask #WhatsYourPayGap and examine how they can start affecting the change within their own organisations.” 

On 17 September, NAWIC will present its inaugural forum hosted by the ABC’s Bright Ideas Program. With it, NAWIC hopes to start the conversation about what changes need to take place. 

Ms Scheul said, “Recognising that there is an issue in the construction industry is one thing, actively working out what to do about it is another. 

“Through the forum’s discussion, we want to identify what the specific barriers are to the construction industry becoming one where women get to fully participate and achieve recognition of their value.”

“We want to see a change in the WGEA scorecard on the gender pay gap. At the very least, it will be a positive step towards achieving our goal of 25 per cent women in construction by 2025.”

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