3.3 Australia

In the ten years to June 2000, the Australian male unemployment rate was static at 6.4% and the female unemployment rate decreased from 6.9% to 6.2% (Preston, 2000a). Both the male and female labour market participation rates also changed; the female rate increased from 52% to 55% and the male rate decreased from 75.7% to 72.6%. In 2000, while females represented 44% of the Australian labour force, 57% of females were in full-time employment 3 compared to 88% of males and 73% of part-time jobs held by women. Over this decade, females were employed in 60% of new jobs, representing 61% of new part-time jobs and 58% of new full-time jobs. Ninety-percent of male employment growth was in casual jobs, with 54% of this growth in the part-time category. While the corresponding figure for women was much lower at 37%, 81% was in the part-time category. There is also evidence of increasing wage inequality from 1991 to 1998, which was more marked for men. Preston attributes this to a decrease in (male) trade union membership.

There was no change in the gender pay gap at the national level using average weekly ordinary time earnings (based on a four-quarter moving average), which remained essentially static at 15.6% between 1991 and 1999 (Preston, 2000a). Western Australia was consistently associated with the largest gender pay gap during this time, with a gap of 21.4% in 1999. While South Australia had the smallest gender pay gap for the first four years of the period, it decreased to plateau at the national average from 1996. These findings should be interpreted in light of the labour market deregulation that occurred in Australia, in 1992 with amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1988 and in 1994 when the Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993 took effect.

Preston (2000b) paid a closer look at the gender pay gap in Western Australia (WA). In May 2000, the gap in the full-time labour market was 16% nationally and the WA gap was about 22%. While the WA gender pay gap has been larger than the national gap over the period of analysis (February 1990 to February 2000), there was a significant increase in the WA gap in 1993 and 1994. As noted above, the national gender pay gap remained static. In 1996, after the WA gender pay gap had experienced its most dramatic increase, men in WA earned 3.8% more than their male counterparts in other states and females earned 6.8% less compared to their female counterparts, when human capital factors such as marital status, age of children, and highest qualification were taken into account. While WA females earned 13.3% less than WA males in 1990, the 1996 gap was 18.5%. This occurred in spite of the higher improvement of human capital for females compared to males over the same time period. These results are interesting in the context that WA had the most vigorous promotion of individualistic industrial relations bargaining, and most of the state legislative reforms were enacted in 1993 (Industrial Relations Amendment Act 1993, Minimum Conditions of Employment Act 1993, and Workplace Agreements Act 1993, all cited in Preston, 2000c).

3 Defined as at least 35 hours per week, whereas most other jurisdictions define full-time employment as 30 hours or more.

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