Article by Tony Cardillo

Businesses will need to review their current gender equality policies as new legislation has been announced which will have a major impact on the gender equality reporting requirements of all businesses with more than 100 employees. The Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, has announced significant reforms to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Cth) ('the Act') and the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency ('EOWA').

What are the changes?

Currently, some businesses are required to report to the EOWA on their gender equality policies; however they do not need to report any specific data about their gender equality practices.

The changes will make the reporting requirements much stricter with all businesses with over 100 employees required to report on:

  • The actual figures of gender composition in their workforce and on their boards;
  • Their employment conditions; and
  • Whether they provide flexible work practices for men and women.

CEOs and employee representatives will be required to sign off on reports. These reports will also need to be provided to employees and shareholders.

To ensure that businesses are providing correct information the EOWA will have power to perform regular spot checks within any reporting organisation.

The Act will also be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Act and the EOWA will be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The new Act will focus on the importance of pay equity and the caring responsibilities of both men and women as fundamental to gender equality.

Who will be affected by the changes?

All businesses in Australia with over 100 employees will need to comply with the new requirements. No exceptions as to who must report or waiver of responsibilities are provided under the proposed legislation. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees do not need to report under the new legislation; however they are still able to access the advice and education of the EOWA.

What are the consequences of non-compliance?

Non-compliant organisations will be named in Parliament and more widely. Failure to fulfill the reporting obligations will mean such businesses will be ineligible to receive Government funded grants or access industry assistance. It will also be unlawful for all Government agencies to trade with non-compliant businesses.

When will the changes come into effect?

The proposed legislation will be developed this year, with the first reports under the new legislation set to fall due at the start of 2013. The Government and the EOWA will provide further information in the coming months.

The new laws come in light of the EOWA's January promise to "shine a spotlight on businesses who are not achieving gender equality by strengthening the EOWA and its underlying legislation."

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