The history of Equal Pay Day in Australia

27 August 2020

The principle of equal pay is a simple one: that regardless of gender, the same work is deserving of the same financial reward. However, the reality is not quite that simple. This is the premise behind Equal Pay Day, otherwise known as ‘(Un)Equal Pay Day’, an annual commemoration that underscores just how significant the discrepancy is between women’s and men’s wages.

Keep reading to learn more about the origins of Equal Pay Day in Australia and how the wage gap impacts women’s long-term savings.

Equal Pay Day
Despite continued efforts to address the issue, the gender pay gap persists. On average, women still earn less money than men.

What is Equal Pay Day?

In order to match men’s salaries for the financial year, women would have to keep working past 30 June. Equal Pay Day marks the precise number of days after EOFY women would still have to work in order to make the same amount of money as men made during the previous financial year.

The date, which changes every year, is established by the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) based on data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In 2019, because there was a 14% pay gap between women and men, Equal Pay Day was observed on 28 August.

A WGEA report from February 2020 indicated that the gender pay gap had decreased 0.1%, but the event will still occur on the same date as last year, 28 August.

It’s also important to note that the gender pay gap varies significantly by industry and location. WGEA pointed out that women in Western Australia faced an especially wide gap of 22.1%. Though the smallest disparity was observed in the Australian Capital Territory, women still earned 8.9% less than men there. Also, the gap was less pronounced in public administration and safety occupations, where women earned 5.7% less than men. In health care and social services, however, the gap stood at 22.3%.

How did Equal Pay Day come to be?

Equal Pay Day comes from a long history of Australian women tirelessly advocating for better representation and more rights.

The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that the fight for expanding women’s rights across the country extends back more than a century. Still, several milestones occurred more recently than many people might realise:

  • Women were first elected to the Commonwealth Parliament in 1943.
  • The first year in which women could be served in all Australian public bars was 1965.
  • As recently as the 1960s, women were routinely forced to give up jobs in the public and private sectors after getting married.

The Commission noted that two prominent areas of concern for women’s rights in Australia today are:

  • Ending violence against women and girls.
  • Closing the gender pay gap.

WGEA owes its founding to the 2012 passage of the Workplace Gender Equality Act. This legislation has the stated goal of eliminating gender-based workplace discrimination and ensuring equality, including equal pay for women and men.

Is Equal Pay Day different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women?

While WGEA has historically only announced one date each year for Equal Pay Day, it’s important to note that women from various backgrounds may experience the gender pay gap differently. When taken together, intersectional factors like race, ability, sexual orientation and more can have a compounding effect on the overall challenges a woman faces. A 2019 report from WGEA produced in partnership with Diversity Council Australia and professional services firm KPMG noted that more research is needed to better understand how intersecting identities influence the country’s gender pay gap.

The gender pay gap adds up, and women’s lifetime savings can be affected by it.

The gender pay gap and women’s retirement savings

The difference in lifetime earnings between women and men can become massive over time. Given how much longer women have to work in one year, when you start to think years ahead, it becomes quite clear how difficult it can be for women to catch up.

When viewed in the short term on Equal Pay Day, the gender pay gap is already very striking. As this issue is extended out into the future, differences become even starker. In addition to losing out on a higher superannuation guarantee, women who earn lower wages might find it difficult to make voluntary contributions to their funds. According to WGEA, by retirement, women in Australia have 40% less saved in their super than men do.

As such, it’s especially important that women make every effort to maximise their super, starting at an early age.

Closing the gender pay gap requires a shared effort from all parts of Australian society. No single person can end employment discrimination or shatter decades-old stereotypes alone. We all have to come together to address the underlying inequalities that lead to the gender pay gap.

LGS’ commitment to closing the gender pay gap

LGS is proud to be an industry partner of Women in Super, a not-for-profit organisation that works to improve women’s retirement outcomes by advocating for a super system void of gender-based inequality. We also believe it’s important for women to clearly understand the challenges they face so they can take steps in their own lives that will leave them on solid footing. Learn about all of the strategies you can use to make your super count today or request an appointment with one of our financial planners.

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