The 1969 Equal Pay case


In June 1969 the long union campaign for equal pay for working women took an important step forward.

This campaign for pay equity began in the 19th century.

As early as 1902 some women in the federal public services, the postmistresses and telegraphists, won equal pay.

But despite many advances by the 1960s the basic wage rate for women was set at 75% of the male rate.

In 1969 the unions representing women meatworkers and federal public employees brought a case to the Arbitration Commission for pay equity.

On June 19, the Commission returned its decision in favour of ‘equal pay for equal work’.

While this sounds positive – and it was certainly a step forward – many equal pay activists were disappointed.

The decision was very limited in scope, applying only to work that men and women performed in the same manner in the same industry, affecting less than 18% of working women (predominantly in the public service). 

This left all those women who worked in female-dominated industries that had been systematically undervalued without equality, paid less than men who performed comparable work.

As a result, while this was a substantial step in gaining legal recognition of equal pay as a right, it was far from a resolution to the ongoing pay injustice working women experienced.

In 1972, the union movement brought another case to the Commission (this one backed by the Whitlam Government) that led to the determination of “equal pay for work of equal value”.

This extended the right to work of comparable value. It removed distinctions between men and women in minimum wage provisions in awards.

Since then, many union campaigns have aimed at getting this right practically recognised and implemented.

We will explore more of these important campaigns in future history blog posts!

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