In brief - New Act aims to achieve gender equality for both men and women
The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act (prior legislation) has recently been replaced by the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) (the Act). The new Act promotes the achievement of gender equality for both men and women in the workplace.
Limited impact of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act
The prior legislation required employers to develop and implement programs in the workplace to achieve equality for women. Employers had to report annually to the Equal Opportunity for Women Agency on the programs developed and implemented.
The prior legislation had limited impact on achieving gender equality in the workplace given its limited application and scope.
Introduction of new gender equality indicators
The Act broadens the scope of the prior legislation and promotes the achievement of gender equality for both men and women in the workplace. Employers will now be required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on new "gender equality indicators", as opposed to being limited to reporting on the development and implementation of workplace programs.
Gender equality indicators under the Act include:
• gender composition of the workforce
• gender composition of the employer's governing body
• equal remuneration of men and women in the workforce
• consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace
• availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements and working arrangements to support employees with family or carer responsibilities
The key objectives of the Act are to promote and improve gender equality in the workplace. Achieving equal remuneration and support for family and caring responsibilities are emphasised as being central to improving the workforce participation of women.
Phased implementation of reporting obligations
The new reporting obligations to achieve the objectives of the Act will be implemented gradually over the next few years. The Act will continue to apply to higher education institutions and non-government employers with 100 or more employers.
• For the 2013 reporting period employers with 100 or more employees will continue to report in accordance with the requirements of the prior legislation. However, employers will also be required to comply with new notification and access requirements in their annual reporting. Of importance is that employers may be required to disclose their annual report to employees, unions and shareholders.
• In the 2014 reporting process, employers will be required to report on new standardised gender equality indicators. It is expected that the minimum standards will be developed through consultation with stakeholders before 1 April 2014.
• Then in the 2015 reporting period, employers will be required to meet minimum standards for gender equality indicators. As a result, employers will be open to public scrutiny of their workforce composition and their gender equality policies and procedures.
Elizabeth Broderick, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Sex Discrimination Commissioner, views the Act as a significant step towards improving women's participation in the workforce. Although the Act on its own will not be sufficient to achieve gender equality, it will require organisations to compile data and review their corporate culture.
Bill to expand right to request flexible working arrangements
A Bill to amend the Fair Work Act 2009, the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Act 2012 (the Bill) is under consideration. Currently the Fair Work Act provides parents or carers of under school aged children (or a disabled child under 18 years) the right to request flexible working arrangements. The Bill would expand the right to request flexible working arrangements to a broader range of carers and to parents, not subject to the current limitations. If passed into legislation the Bill could, in conjunction with the Act, assist towards the achievement of gender equality in the workplace.
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