4 Apr 2023

Australia is taking significant steps towards closing the gender pay gap, with new legislation addressing both the direct and indirect discrimination women face in the workplace.

Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023

On 30 March 2023, the Australian Parliament passed the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023.

This Bill is a significant step forward in advancing gender equality in Australian workplaces, in response to a 2021-22 Review (the Review) of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (the Act).

The Review was released in March 2022, and concluded that the gender pay gap in Australia was not closing at a fast enough rate. It made 10 recommendations to accelerate change in workplace gender inequality and reduce the reporting burden on businesses.

The Bill, which is supported by two remade Legislative Instruments – the Workplace Gender Equality (Gender Equality Standards) Instrument 2023 and the Workplace Gender Equality (Matters in relation to Gender Equality Indicators) Instrument 2023 – amends the current legislative framework to deliver in part or in full on six of the 10 recommendations of the Review.

Together, these legislative reforms will drive for employer action, transparency and accountability and will help speed up progress towards gender equality in the workplace.

The Bill will, for the first time, allow the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) to publish gender pay gaps at an employer level, in addition to publishing the gender pay gap at a national, industry and occupational level.

Research indicates the value of publishing employer gender pay gaps in encouraging employers to address adverse gender dynamics in the workplace, and nudging individuals – both employers and employees – towards real-world action that will make change in their workplace.

Until now, WGEA has collected gender pay gap data from employers, but has not had the legislative authority to publish it. Instead, employers received this information in a confidential report.

WGEA will publish the first set of private sector employment gender pay gaps in early 2024, using data from the current reporting period, which ends on 31 March 2023. Data for Commonwealth public sector organizations will be based on the 1 January 2023 – 31 December 2023 reporting period. As private and public sector organizations follow different reporting timelines, the first publication of Commonwealth public sector organizations’ gender pay gaps will be published in late 2024 or early 2025.

If they choose to, employers will be able to provide a narrative related to their gender pay gap and the actions they are taking to address it.

This will sit alongside their gender pay gap information which will be published on WGEA’s website.

In addition, the Bill also:
• Amends the Act to rename current ‘minimum standards’ as ‘gender equality standards’, to reflect the increased ambitions of these measures to strengthen gender equality, improving outcomes for both women and men in the workplace.
• Strengthens the accountability of relevant employers to take action to improve gender equality in their workplaces, by requiring certain reports from WGEA – the Executive Summary and Industry Benchmark Report – to be given to all members of their governing body (such as the Board).
• Makes the Act consistent with its associated legislative instruments by including ‘sexual harassment’, ‘harassment on the ground of sex’, or ‘discrimination’ as gender equality indicators.

You can find out more about the Review here, and about the changes the Bill will make here.