Why and how does gender wage inequality persist?: perceptions of stakeholders in the Australian industrial relations system
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This thesis explores how and why gender wage inequality persisted in Australia during the period 1990 to 2003. A review of the wage data indicated that Australian inequality persisted during this period and even increased in Western Australia. An analysis of the literature and published tribunal decisions showed that the focus of action relating to gender wage equality was on the formal industrial relations system, through legislation and tribunal decisions. As the literature also indicated that these measures had failed to assist many female-dominated occupations, it was felt useful to examine the views of key stakeholders in the formal industrial relations system. Given the mainly quantitative and aggregate data analysis of previous empirical literature and the theoretical literature’s growing focus on less quantifiable social factors, it was felt that qualitative research would add to the analysis of gender wage determination. This thesis uses in-depth interviews with stakeholders in the federal and Western Australian industrial relations systems to examine the period 1990 to 2003. Their perceptions and observations are triangulated with published wage data from selected occupations.Interviewees felt that the persistence of gender wage inequality was a complex artifact. An artifact of economic, industrial relations, social and cultural factors, combined with the biological and psychological attributes of all involved in decisions before and in the workplace. While much of the gender wage gap literature has been focused on the economic, industrial relations, or legal aspects of wage inequality, this thesis uniquely demonstrates why and how social and cultural influences also act to create persistent gender wage inequality. As much as action is taken in the legal and political arena to create equality, the players in the industrial relations system, consciously or not, both male and female, say that they have helped to (re)construct the gender wage gap. The implications are that in order to achieve gender wage equality, action cannot be left only to legislation and activity in the courts, but is also needed at the social and cultural level. Such action could be taken within the enterprise as well as in the school, community and home.
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