The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency has
become the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (the agency) as part of
the introduction of a more stringent framework for gender equality
reporting introduced last year.
The Workplace Gender Equality Act (the Act) received royal
assent on 6 December 2012 and will be phased in over the next two
years. The Act makes significant changes to the gender equality
reporting requirements for large private sector employers with more
than 100 employees.
The requirement for employers to develop equal opportunity
programs, which has been in place since 1999 under the former Equal
Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act, has been removed in
favour of a more stringent requirement to report on "gender
The Act defines these indicators as the:
gender composition of the workforce
gender composition of governing bodies of relevant
equal remuneration between women and men
availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and
practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees
and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or
consultation with employees on issues concerning gender
equality in the workplace, and
matters specified in a legislative instrument by the
The Minister will have broad powers to determine reporting
requirements based on these indicators, after consultation with the
agency. Importantly for employers, the Minister also has the power
to set industry-specific minimum standards to achieve
Starting from the 2013/14 reporting cycle, employers are
required to prepare a report (for the period spanning 1 April to 31
March each year) that provides details of their company and
responds to gender equality indicator queries specified by the
Minister. Once submitted, the reports may be made public by the
agency, but they will not include personal information. Employers
have been assured that information relating to remuneration will
also not be published, however the Act allows publication where the
information "is in an aggregated form and does not disclose,
either directly or indirectly, information about a specific
relevant employer or another specific person".
Employers are also required to provide employees and
shareholders with the means of accessing the reports they submit.
Employers must inform employees and relevant unions that a report
has been lodged, and of the opportunity to provide comments on the
report to the agency.
Of particular interest to large employers will be the compliance
mechanisms introduced under the Act. An employer will be
non-compliant under the Act if it fails to:
lodge a public report on time
inform employees, shareholders or unions of any of the matters
specified in the Act
give the agency information relating to compliance if issued
with a notice to do so, or
reach a minimum standard or improve against that standard in
the next reporting period.
The agency has the power to essentially "name and
shame" non-compliant employers by publishing the
employer's name and the details of their non-compliance in
reports, print media or online. Before that happens, the agency
will inform employers of the proposal to publish those details and
they will be given the opportunity to respond. The agency must also
provide advice and assistance to employers failing to comply with
the minimum standards.
The Government's consultation with stakeholders on a range
of issues relating to the Act finished on 29 January 2013. Of
particular relevance to employers with more than 100 workers will
be the setting of industry-specific minimum standards some time
before 1 April 2014. Once minimum standards are set, employers will
have two years to comply before being exposed to the agency's
"name and shame" power under the Act.
Despite its more stringent reporting mechanisms, whether the Act
will be effective in addressing ongoing discrimination and lack of
diversity in many professions will depend largely on the attitudes
of those reporting, and of the agency in enforcing compliance.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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