A short documentary charting the struggle of Australian women for equal pay for not only equal work, but equal pay for comparable work. The film is loosely told through the eyes of a number of women involved in both historical and contemporary campaigns.
Nurse Alex Anderson fights for recognition of nursing as comparable work requiring comparable wages, feminist political activists Zelda D’Aprano and Edna Ryan reference historical struggles to inspire other women to fight on, while ACTU industrial officer Jenny Acton spearheads a 1980s test case for ‘comparable work’ in the Arbitration Commission. The terms of reference for this campaign is the premise that work traditionally done by women should be considered comparable to traditionally male dominated occupations such as police, fire and ambulance.
The film opens with a nurse in a hospital scene, where Anderson talks about low wages and the perception of women’s work, followed by a scene in which D’Aprano tells a group of women to take radical action, which is manifested by a group of women staging a protest on a tram where they pay only 67% of the full fare because they only receive 67% of men’s wages. Historical footage and stills backdrop a recounting of the struggle for equal pay, with Edna Ryan recounting how women before the war were not guaranteed a minimum wage like their male counterparts, condemning many to poverty.
Muriel Heagrey fought within the union movement in the 1930s for equal pay, establishing the Council for Action for Equal Pay, while World War Two saw many women enter the workforce and some even receive equal pay. D’Aprano recounts how she chained herself to the Commonwealth building in Melbourne during the 1969 equal pay case, which resulted in equal pay for equal work being won. However, few women did the same work as men and consequently the battle for equal pay for comparable work continued, culminating in a 1985 campaign in which nurses sought equal pay for comparable work. While Jenny Acton presents the union case at the Arbitration Commission, activists link themselves with a chain outside, reminiscent of D’Aprano’s action years earlier. The Commission rejects the idea of comparable work. D’Aprano says it’s just a matter of time.
Author: J Bird, 2023