The lawyer representing aged care employees has cautioned the Fair Work Commission against using gender as a reason to lift wages in the union’s bid to increase pay by 25%.
In the first day of hearings, Nigel Ward, who is representing aged care employees and is also CEO of Australian Business Lawyers and Advisors, asked the commission to “exercise some caution” when considering gender in relation to the proposed pay increase.
“The Commission needs to be careful that this doesn’t turn into an equal remuneration case by disguise,” he warned.
“If you look at some of the evidence … you start to get a sense that that’s a little bit about what some of this is,” he said.
Mr Ward said academics claim aged care work is undervalued because “it’s – as they describe it – women’s work”. But he said it was not clear what the work is undervalued in relation to.
“Perhaps there is a suggestion that the minimum rates in aged care are undervalued when you compare them to male-dominated minimum rates in the building award,” he proposed.
Earlier in proceedings, Mark Gibian SC, who is acting for the Health Services Union (HSU), said it was “necessary” for the commission to “consider the extent to which” aged care workers’ labour “has been historically undervalued, including for reasons related to the gendered nature of that work”.
“The workforce in both residential care and home care is overwhelmingly female dominated, and the nature of the work is such that it is of the nature that has historically and regrettably been characterised as ‘women’s work’.”
Gibian described the nature of the work as “sensitive” and “emotional”, and said it required a “high degree of discretion, judgement and advanced interpersonal communication and empathetic skills.”
He said many of the skills required of aged care workers were considered “somehow natural rather than demonstrable of a skilled workforce”, particularly in “a female‑dominated workforce”.
Fair Work Commission president Justice Iain Ross told the first day of hearings the commission won’t be influenced by government funding constraints in deciding how much to increase wages.
He said “affordability” of the increase was not relevant to setting minimum wages that reflect work value. But he said government funding may affect when any recommended pay rise comes into effect.