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Female nurses must demand equal pay

Female nurses must demand equal pay
Photo: Equal pay for female nurses
Written by Caglayan Yasan

Nurses help to keep us alive and healthy, and the work of a female nurse is no less valuable than that of a male nurse.

Yet, despite the obvious truth of this statement, male nurses on average earn higher salaries than female nurses in Australia. While the gender wage gap for nurses has diminished over time, it needs to close entirely.

Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 14.2% [1].  As at May 2021, women’s average weekly ordinary fulltime earnings across all industries and occupations was $1,575.00 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary fulltime earnings of $1,837.00. This means that on average, women earn $261.50 less than men.

In the healthcare and social assistance sector, which includes nurses, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals a wider gender pay gap.
Women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings in healthcare in 2021 was just $1,570 compared to $1,978 for men, a gap of $408.50 [2]. 

This is a damming statistic given that the healthcare and social assistance sector is Australia's largest employer and includes women working in essential services.

Consider also that male earnings are growing faster than those of females. Average weekly ordinary time earnings for full-time adult men raised by 1.8% to $1,837 between November 2020 and May 2021, which was higher than for women (up 0.9% to $1,575).

According to the ABS, this was partly explained by the high average earnings growth in the construction industry, which has a high proportion of men.

In contrast, in the nursing workforce, most are women, or almost 88% of workers. In terms of nurses’ salaries, we know from the most recent ABS data available that the average weekly total cash earnings for female registered nurses was $1,365.90 in 2018, compared to male registered nurses at $1,493.80, a gap of around $128.

This wages gap exists despite the nursing workforce being predominantly female. Approximately 87 per cent of all nurses and midwives are women.

Many work part-time and a significant number stop working to care for children and elderly families during their careers.

These breaks and the need to work part-time while caring for families means that female nurses can be economically disadvantaged over their working lives, as their career progress being stunted.

This disrupted work lives of women who have children and part-time employment also frequently results in having much less superannuation than men despite living longer.

The average life expectancy for women is 85 years compared to 80.9 for men [3]. According to ABS data, in 2017-18 the average super account balance for people aged 15 and over was $168,500 for men and $121,300 for women. As a matter of fairness, the gender pay gap needs to close.

And all employers have an obligation to eliminate the gap. It is important for all employers in the healthcare sector to develop career paths for nurses and other healthcare workers that encompass flexible work practices and encourage an organisational culture that supports part-time work for both women and men.

The obligation is also on healthcare employers to conduct a gender pay audit to help identify and address discriminatory pay, so women are equally compensated and valued. Employers can also establish goals, strategies, and actions to manage and improve gender pay equity in their organisations.

Women, too, have an important role to play in preventing salary gaps. Negotiating salary before taking a position and pursuing further post-graduate qualifications, since advanced education can have a positive impact on their skills (management skills) and earnings.

While the gap is slowly closing, women need to take these steps to enable them to receive equal pay as male nurses.

There also needs to be a shift in culture and policy to support female nurses moving into management roles following a period of absence to continue in their career progression.

More on-the-job training opportunities and support are  to be provided to female nurses returning to work so that they are not disadvantaged in their career progression.

In Victoria, Western Health for example offers registered nurses who have had a period of absence from the clinical setting a ‘Nurses Refresher Course’.

This course is designed to help nurses to update their knowledge, skills and build their confidence to return to work.

Under the Federal Law, the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, large employers (non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees in their corporate structure) and registered higher education providers have to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) annually on a set of gender equality indicators.

Employers with over 500 employees must also meet certain minimum standards, including having a policy or strategy in certain areas, to support gender equality.

It’s also unlawful under the Fair Work Act to discriminate on the basis of sex. Various state, territory and federal anti-discrimination laws also make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the grounds of gender regarding remuneration.

Globally, the UN International Equal Pay Day is celebrated on 18 September each year and it builds on the United Nations commitment to human rights and against all forms of discrimination, including discrimination against women and girls.

Globally, women are paid less than men, with the gender pay gap estimated at 23%. According to the United Nations [4], women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn for work of equal value. At the current rate, it will take the next 257 years to close the global gender pay gap, the UN estimates.

Yet, now is the time that these wage discrepancies reversed. For nurses, pay differences for male and female nurses with the same qualification and experience are a reality. But this reality needs to be corrected before inequality in gender pay widens further.


About Caglayan Yasan
Caglayan is the VU Online Master of Nursing Academic Course Coordinator. She is a student-focused academic working within the College of Health and Biomedicine/Nursing. She is an experienced surgical, community and rapid assessment nurse and is undertaking her PhD with the aim to improve patient/staff experience with falls prevention in a medical ward. She graduated as a registered nurse in 2003. She commenced her career at VU as a clinical facilitator in 2015.



[1] https://www.wgea.gov.au/publications/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics
[2] https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/earnings-and-work-hours/average-weekly-earnings-australia/latest-release#industry
[3] https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/life-expectancy-continues-increase-australia
[4] https://www.un.org/en/observances/equal-pay-day

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