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13 Mar 12
Not quite a quota - but reporting requirements ramp up

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Earlier this month the Federal Government introduced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 (the Bill) establishing rigorous reporting requirements for workplace gender equality. McCullough Robertson Partner, Jeremy Kennedy and Lawyer, Gillian Holmes take a look at the changes that occurred when the Bill was introduced after a comprehensive review of the current Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999.

The review identified an estimated gender pay gap of 18% and found that less than a third of employers were complying with current equal opportunity (EO) reporting requirements.

Under the present regime, relevant employers (including higher education institutions and private sector employers with 100 or more employees) are required to implement an equal opportunity for women in the workplace program (EO Program), which details measures taken by the employer to eliminate discrimination against women and achieve gender equality in the workplace.

In addition to an EO Program, employers are currently required to provide an annual report (by 31 May each year) which details the workplace profile, an analysis of EO issues in the workplace, and the short and long term actions taken to address them. 

Under the new regime, employers will be required to undergo online reporting against a number of gender equality indicators (Indicators). These reports must be signed off by the organisations CEO and a relevant employee representative and will be accessible to all shareholders and employees.

The Indicators set out in the Bill include:

  • gender composition of the workforce
  • gender composition of governing bodies of relevant employers
  • equal remuneration between women and men
  • availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities
  • consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace, and
  • any other minimum standards as specified by the Minister.

The new reporting requirements will be phased in over the next two years, with no changes occurring for the 2012 reporting year. In 2013, employers will only be required to report on their workplace profiles, with full reporting requirements will commence in 2014.

In addition to reporting on the Indicators, the Bill proposes to develop industry level benchmarks, industry specific strategies and minimum standards to assist in achieving equality for particular workplaces. These will be developed in consultation with industry and introduced in 2015, where they will form a basis of comparison for reporting data.

At the forefront of the reform is the aim to remove barriers to full and equal participation of women in the workforce. This includes a focus on facilitation of flexible caring arrangements and an improvement in the uptake of such arrangements by men. To coincide with this agenda, the Bill proposes to rename the current legislation to Workplace Gender Equality Act highlighting its intended coverage of both men and women.

By their own admission the Government’s reform continues the light-handed and quasi regulatory approach seen in the present regime. However it is hoped that the legislated consequences of being named and shamed in parliament, as well as being precluded from doing business with government, will encourage voluntary compliance.

In the private sector, the approach of linking executive bonuses with gender composition requirements may do more to motivate those responsible for recruiting and retaining female talent, than the government’s proposed slap on the wrist. Only time will tell. 

In any event employers should watch this space to determine the application of the Bill to their workplace.

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For up to the hour updates on developments in relation to workplace relations and safety law, link in with Jeremy Kennedy and Gillian Holmes on LinkedIn, subscribe to Workplace Health & Safety Lawyer discussion group on LinkedIn or follow Jeremy on Twitter @WHSLawyer.


Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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