Hopes the new laws will "normalise" men asking for flexible conditions ... Helen Conway. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
NEW federal laws surrounding workplace equality, likely to be passed in Canberra this week, aim to give more men the option of becoming the primary carer when they start a family.
The laws provide for all businesses with more than 100 staff to report on how many men and women they employ and whether they pay them the same amount.
The laws will also compel companies to record the gender composition of their board or trustees.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
The government's Workplace Gender Equality Act is before the Senate this week, having already passed the lower house.
Business groups have been lukewarm on the changes, which they say will add to bureaucracy. The government has said information could be handled online, and would not add to red tape.
The Greens have attacked the laws, saying they do not go far enough and have questioned whether they should take in all workplaces, not just those with more than 100 employees.
Under the proposals, a workplace gender equality agency will be set up. It will be able to ''name and shame'' companies (a power the existing agency has) and also have the power to deny companies government work and contracts.
The director of the federal equal opportunity agency said she hoped the new laws would help ''normalise'' men taking more time off for family reasons.
Most of the disadvantage in the workplace still related to women, said Helen Conway, from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (soon to be renamed Workplace Gender Equality Agency).
''Women are paid less, they aren't as prominent in leadership positions,'' she said. ''If a woman takes a year of maternity leave, when she returns to work she will suffer a 5 per cent drop in salary if you convert it to an hourly rate.''
Men equally now wanted to do more caring in the home when they had young children, she said, but they feared asking for this because of being similarly disadvantaged when they returned to work.
Ms Conway said she hoped the act ''normalised'' men asking for flexible conditions.
''In most workplaces you see a male norm and female deviations from that norm, and people say, 'We have to do something for the women', so they set up some special arrangements for them to care for the kids. It's not mainstreamed.''
If men took up flexible work practices, it would look more normal, she said. ''Of course, men don't do it because they know they will suffer disadvantage to their career if they do.''
The Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, said she hoped the legislation would promote cultural change in workplaces towards ''true gender equality''.
It was essential that the pay gap between men and women - now at 17.5 per cent - was closed, Ms Collins said.
The new law would ''help break down the entrenched attitudes that mean fewer men than women take up the option of being the main carer'', she said.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned this year that the changes must have a practical benefit and the data not be misused.
A spokeswoman for the Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said last night that the exclusion of small businesses, representing 4.8 million workers and nearly half the private sector, was disappointing.