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You’ve just walked into the lunch room, where you overhear a male colleague gushing about his recent pay rise. Your stomach suddenly knots — where’s your pay rise? Don’t you have the same expertise as your co-worker?

If you have evidence that you’re being paid less than your co-workers for the same work, now’s the time to have a conversation with your boss about unfair pay. 

Let’s look at the facts about the gender pay gap in Australia

At the time of writing, Australia’s gender pay gap currently stands at 17.9%, which means that, on average, a woman would have to work an extra 60 days per year to earn the same as a man. According to the Equal Pay Day Alliance, 45.6% of all employees are women, yet women make up close to 70% of all part-time employees and nearly 60% of casual employees.

The ‘motherhood penalty’

The gender pay gap exists for various reasons, but balancing motherhood with work is among the most conspicuous, and it’s an issue that we still haven’t resolved. Women often elect to return to the workforce part-time so they can nurture their children. Unfortunately, this decision can incur the ‘motherhood penalty’, which can have a significant impact on their careers.

Many women in high-profile work, such as lawyers, CEOs and senior executives, find that their career goals are less achievable in a part-time capacity compared with working full-time. In addition, their need to work fewer hours can lead to their being pushed into lower-paid work.

When women return to work after a prolonged time away from the office, they often feel like they have to play catch-up, which is another factor making it hard for mums to climb the corporate ladder.

Are there valid reasons for pay discrepancies?

Employers are obliged to pay workers equally and fairly. Failure to do so can be grounds for a discrimination case. However, co-workers can be on different pay rates for valid reasons. For example, an employee who has recently completed company training programs to acquire new and improved skills has the edge when requesting a pay rise. And if a senior associate has performed their role for more years than another senior associate has, that experience takes them to a higher pay grade or level.

What can you do if you're being paid less than your co-workers?

If you feel that your employer is underpaying you for doing the same, or similar, work as your colleagues or even workers in comparable roles in other industries do, raise your concerns with management. To give yourself the best chance of success, take the following steps to ensure you’re prepared:

  • Do your research: check your company’s website or job-listings sites for roles similar to yours so you can see what they’re offering. Read the job descriptions to see how they measure up to yours. Do you have the necessary skills to meet that pay range?
  • Make a list of all your skills and qualifications, and include any training programs you’ve completed.
  • Find out whether an award covers your role, and if so, check the government pay guide to see whether you’re being paid correctly.
  • Give your contract (or award) and job description a thorough read. Have you taken on extra duties that you need to address?
  • Talk to your co-workers about your concerns if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be willing to be open about their salaries, so you can ask why they think their pay rates are higher than yours. You may find that they have greater skills or that they’ve been working for longer than you have.
  • Make a time to meet with your manager and show them your research, explaining why you think they’re underpaying you. Ask for a salary review and ensure they’re aware of any new and improved attributes that will enhance your work.

How do you ask your employer for equal pay?

Your employer may have incorrectly classified your pay, and you can usually sort this out with management. If you still have concerns, talk with someone from human resources or your union representative.

If these approaches fail, consider discussing your case with an experienced employment lawyer; a legal expert may be able to give you a better sense of whether your employer is discriminating against you. If you reach this point, you shouldn’t worry about being victimised for coming forward — remember that your case is always confidential unless you ask your lawyer to approach your employer.

If you think your employer is paying you unfairly, your best bet is to be up-front with your boss and start a conversation. Explain why you think your pay is unfair, and why you believe your pay should equal that of your co-workers. If the situation is still in doubt after this, get in touch with one of our specialist employment lawyers who can advise you on your options. 

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Our specialist employment lawyers can provide advice and representation on a wide range of workplace legal issues, including investigations, negotiating the terms of employment contracts, recovering bonus payments, sexual harassment and more. 

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