Equal pay for work of equal value

It took over 25 years for the idea of equal pay for equal work to get from the United Nations to women’s pay packets. Up until 1973, many women received lower pay simply because they were women.

Women outside Trades Hall in Melbourne 1969

It took a long time for women to receive equal pay, and here are some of the steps that have been taken to win women equal pay for work of equal value:

  • In 1951 a convention was brought forward by the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations. It recommended “equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value…with a view to providing a classification of jobs without regard to sex.”
  • In 1960 equal pay for work of equal value was awarded, although specifically female work was not included.
  • In 1969 the Australia Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) mounted a test case to get rid of the 25 per cent difference between pay rates. The court ruled that women should begin to get 85 per cent of the male wage.
  • In 1972 it was decided that women would be awarded with entirely equal pay. That is, 100 per cent of the male wage. The decision of the Arbitration Commission said that women who were performing the same work as men should get the same award rate of pay. It meant that you could no longer have lower female rates for the same job.
  • The commission’s decision automatically applied to women under federal awards but only covered about 40% of women in the workforce. This lead to an enormous campaign from unions to change the various state awards too. This was made particularly complicated because claims had to be formally heard on a state by state basis.
  • In 1973, the commission set a minimum wage for all adults and in 1974 it dropped the concept of ‘family support’ as part of the wage system.


Workers and unions are still striving for equality in actual rates of pay. This would cover inconsistencies such as over awards – when women are paid the award rate while their male colleagues receive a rate higher than the award.

Gender pay gap: Why does the average woman still earn less than the average man – a million dollars less over a lifetime! Learn more at the gender pay gap fact sheet.


Australian Curriculum Links:

Work Studies/Gender And Work
Investigate the effects of socialisation and culture on education and career choices.

Work Studies/Gender And Work
Analyse the impact of gender on subject choice, work aspirations, further education, career choices and resultant outcomes:

Work Studies/Gender And Work
Analyse the impact of gender imbalance on the workplace and the community.

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