Legislation to force major employers to publicly report on gender pay gaps is being examined by a Senate committee amid evidence that women on median incomes earn $1 million less over their working lives than their male counterparts.
Under the proposed Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill, companies and public sector agencies with 100 or more workers will have to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on differences in pay by gender and action being taken to address sexual harassment and discrimination.
The Coalition has indicated a willingness to support the legislation, and a report from Senate's Finance and Public Administration Committee is due on March 16.
Impetus for the new measure has come from evidence that progress in closing the gender pay gap has virtually stalled to the point that leading think-tank the Australia Institute reckons that at the current pace it will take a further 30 years to disappear.
In a study released to coincide with International Women's Day, the institute said women on median incomes earn $1 million less over the course of their working lives than their male counterparts.
Co-author, Australia Institute senior economist Eliza Littleton said that, collectively, women are paid $3 billion a week less than men despite comprising almost half the workforce.
Ms Littleton said this gap in income led to a "huge disparity" in savings at retirement, with women on a median income accumulating $136,000 less in super than a man on the median wage.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reported that the gender pay gap late last year was 13.3 per cent, down from 17.2 per cent in May 2012 but above the average 12 per cent among Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
The gap has barely narrowed since 2018 and the Australia Institute warns that, at the current pace, around 60 per cent of people in the workforce now will have retired before it disappears.
The pay gap has persisted despite the fact that Australian women are among the most employed and educated in the world.
Instead, a major cause of the gender pay disparity is that women are "considerably over-represented" in low-paid sectors and insecure jobs while men predominate in industries and jobs that are well-remunerated and secure, the Australia Institute said.
It reported that in the past two decades more than half the 2.4 million women to have entered the workforce have joined just two sectors, health and education, further entrenching the idea of what constitutes "women's work".
In addition, women in Australia carry a much heavier burden of unpaid work than men, the study said, reporting that women spent 81 per cent more time on domestic chores and providing care than men.
The findings come as separate research has found that 60 per cent of people on low-income support such as JobSeeker and student and parenting payments are women, including almost all recipients of the Parenting Payment Single scheme.
Anti-Poverty Week executive director Toni Wren said, "poverty and the risk of homelessness, like violence, is gendered".
"When women leave a violent relationship or find themselves on their own bringing up children, they're punished with an inadequate system of income and housing support and the consequences can affect their lives deep into their retirement years," Ms Wren said.
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