The gender pay gap. <i>Illustration: </i> Matt Davidson

The gender pay gap. Illustration: Matt Davidson

How annoying. I must have made a terrible error. According to correspondence received in response to a column I wrote a couple of weeks' ago, there is no real gender pay gap.

And, if there is, it is the fault of women who only want to work part-time. And why should part-timers have access to any of the goodies?

Here's one email I loved from a dear reader: a bloke who thought feminists would fall silent on this issue when equality is reached. Well, yes.

And another: ''More claptrap for the feminists. It's illegal to pay women less.'' Well, not exactly.

But this is probably my favourite: ''As long as male graduates are prepared to go and work on oil rigs and female graduates prefer to remain close to their favourite 'cappuchino' [sic] joints, this will happen.''

As a long black drinker, I found this insulting. But one email really did frighten me. There I was, praising pharmacists for recognising the value of women as employees, when I was sent a Fair Work Ombudsman report from Queensland, which showed nearly half of Pharmacy Guild members didn't appropriately honour pay or other entitlements in a December 2010 audit.

Chris Walton, the chief executive officer of the association, which represents pharmacists, APESMA, says he thinks the underpayment may well be because the pharmacy profession runs at about 58 per cent women.

''It's that classic case of feminised industries being a lot lower paid and with lower union membership,'' he says.

Walton claims the culture of underpayment is so ingrained in small pharmacies that the Fair Work Ombudsman has been forced to step in to conduct a full audit of pharmacies over the next 12 months.

Now Pharmacy Guild spokesman, Greg Turnbull, has a different take on the audit. He says that the 2010 audit finding was mostly comprised of pharmacy employers not meeting their obligations at a low-level. While he acknowledges that every breach is important, he says some of those breaches included a lack of availability of the new award; or not paying what Turnbull described as a laundry allowance. Which made it sound fairly unimportant. And I'm sure that some of those cases did in fact breach low-level obligations.

The audit looked at wages, meal breaks, record-keeping and payslip obligations. Of the 575 businesses that the Fair Work Ombudsman assessed, it found that 255 (44 per cent) had not met one or more of their obligations. The program recovered $194,905 for 1334 underpaid employees. Hmmm. That seems like more than a small breach, at nearly $150 an employee.

This new audit and educational campaign must have been motivated by the number of complaints the FWO received over two years - nearly 200 from employees in the chemist and pharmacy industry and the significant issue was underpayment of wages. Not a missing copy of an award. Not laundry allowances.

The FWO says this about complaints after the audit: ''During July 2010 and September 2012 we received 192 complaints from employees in the chemist and pharmacy industry. We found that 51 per cent of the employers involved hadn't met their obligations. The most common issues were underpaying wages.''

So while women earn more than men at a graduate level in this particular profession, as I discussed a couple of weeks ago, it's worth bearing in mind that thousands of Australians, men and women, are being unlawfully underpaid. Many pharmacists who are members of APESMA (who represents employee pharmacists) would point out that it's a case of both genders being equally underpaid - hardly a praiseworthy situation.

The good news, for men and women, is that the federal government has decided that before it weighs into the gender equity discussion, it wants to know what we think about our pay and conditions. It understands that we need to improve gender equality at work (I'm guessing that if male kindergarten teachers were paid less than their female counterparts, this would be on the home page of every media outlet).

The government also wants to know how to measure it.

The government has a discussion paper on this exact topic out at the moment. We all know employers with more than 100 employees will need to report on the number of men and women in their workplaces but for the first time these reports will contain pay data - who is getting paid what, according to their gender.

Now, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is doing a shout-out. It is looking for specifics on what else should be measured: full-time, part-time? Do part-time workers get promoted? I'm guessing they would also be very keen to know if men who take parental leave get discriminated against (I know of at least one young man who was mocked for wanting to go part-time so he could share the parenting load with his wife. Let's see what happens to him when he goes for a promotion).

Go to the FAHCSIA home page - you've got a week to let them know what's wrong with work.

We can't know what to fix until we've measured it. And the government won't know what to measure until you've told them.