Funding cut threatens community sector wage parity and services, ACOSS warns

The community service sector is under threat of losing more than $500 million in government funding which flowed from a landmark Fair Work Commission decision addressing gender pay inequity in the female-dominated sector.

The Australian Council of Social Service has warned the federal government’s decision to stop providing additional funding from July 2021 to address gender-based pay inequality would cut more than $500 million a year.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie
ACOSS CEO Cassandra GoldieCredit:Alex Ellinghausen

ACOSS chief executive officer Cassandra Goldie said without this funding, “devastating cuts to services to some of the most vulnerable people in our community are inevitable”.

“Cutting this funding would mean that the gains in gender equality achieved as a result of the 2012 equal pay case would be put at great risk, impacting the national gender pay gap,” she said.


Dr Goldie said a 2012 Fair Work Commission decision that addressed the undervaluation of work performed in much of the community services sector had led to wage increases of up to 45 per cent. Most governments provided extra funding to help community sector organisations address gender-based pay inequality.

Federal funding was guaranteed in legislation until June 2021.

“This funding affects homelessness services, services to families and children, domestic violence services and other community services,” Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS has called on the government to address the issue of fair pay and gender equality in the mid-year budget update and to continue funding community services.

“We have made it clear to the government that our sector, its staff and the people who rely on its services need a guarantee that funding for the sector’s obligations to equal pay must be secured without further delay,” Dr Goldie said.

Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said she met with about 20 representatives of the social services sector, including Dr Goldie, last week “to discuss how we can all work together to deal with the implications of the cessation of the Equal Remuneration Order supplementation”.

“This is an ongoing conversation and to suggest that the government has made a decision to withdraw funding at the expense of quality services and fair pay is completely disingenuous,” Ms Ruston said.

“I made a commitment to work with the sector on how we can together best ensure the long-term sustainability of our social services system in a way that delivers real and long-lasting benefits for those who need its support.”

Dr Goldie said community services work had been undervalued for many years because “caring work” was considered women’s work, and because the sector was predominantly female.

She welcomed the minister’s engagement and commitment to an ongoing conversation with ACOSS and its members.

“After years of campaigning by workers, their unions and the sector as a whole, in 2012 the Fair Work Commission concluded an Equal Remuneration Order was appropriate to address this discrepancy,” Dr Goldie said.

“The sector saw significant increases in wages and a commitment was forthcoming from the Commonwealth government to increase funding to pay these higher wages.”

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