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Lack of female pilots behind bad pay figures, say airlines

written by Jake Nelson | February 27, 2024

Qantas pilot Jade Vincent in the cockpit of a 737-800. (Qantas)

Qantas and Virgin have argued a global lack of women becoming pilots or engineers is the reason airlines performed badly in gender pay data released by the federal government.

On Tuesday, a report released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency revealed the median pay gap was 19 per cent across all industries, in favour of men.

However, Australia’s airlines performed poorly in comparison, with Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin’s figures around twice as large.

According to Qantas Group chief people officer Catherine Walsh, the gap is not an indication that women are paid less than men for the same work at Qantas and Jetstar, but that “there is a significant underrepresentation of women in highly paid roles like pilots and engineers across airlines globally”.

“We are working hard to encourage more women into pilot and engineering roles, particularly through our two academies, but the years of training required for these roles means improving the gender balance of these workgroups will take time,” she said.


“We’re expanding our outreach into high schools to promote aviation as a career which hopefully results in more girls choosing subjects that put them on track to become pilots and engineers of the future.”

Virgin Australia similarly said its gender pay gap was driven by the demographic profile of the organisation.

“This sees a larger proportion of men occupying higher-paying pilot and aircraft engineering roles,” a spokesperson said.

“We have gender representation targets and supporting initiatives across our frontline and corporate workgroups and we are focused on improving the demographic profile of key roles across our organisation over time.​”

The median gender pay gap Australia-wide for total remuneration in 2022–23 was 19.0 per cent, and 14.5 per cent for base salary.

This was higher across the air and space transport industry as a whole, with a median gap of 38.1 per cent for total remuneration and 37.7 per cent for base salary.

Breaking down the figures for different airlines, the median gender pay gap for total remuneration at Qantas Group was 38.3 per cent in 2022–23, with 37 per cent for Qantas itself, 43.7 per cent for Jetstar, and 36.4 per cent for other Qantas subsidiaries.

Considering base pay only, the gap was 40 per cent for the group as a whole, 39.3 per cent for Qantas, 53.5 per cent for Jetstar and 37.6 per cent for subsidiaries.

Higher-paid roles like pilots and engineers at Qantas are overwhelmingly dominated by men, with 92.8 per cent of pilots and 96.2 per cent of engineers being male, while the opposite is true for lower-paid customer service and cabin crew – 75.4 per cent of airport customer service workers and 70.5 per cent of cabin crew are female.

Virgin had a median pay gap of 41.7 per cent, while Rex had the smallest gender pay gap of the three biggest airlines, with a median gap of 26.8 per cent in total remuneration and 25 per cent in base salary.

“This comes to us as a surprise as Rex is not aware that we ranked so highly in the transport sector. Rex adheres to our corporate diversity policy,” a Rex spokesperson told Australian Aviation.

Rex’s diversity policy states that the airline “believes diversity is about recognising and valuing the contribution of all staff regardless of their status i.e. gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, culture, ethnicity, and religion, etc”.

“Rex’s criteria for recruitment, promotion, incentive payments and retrenchment are strictly based on capability, suitability and merit,” the policy reads.

“Rex believes that it is reverse discrimination to have in place policies that unfairly assist and advance the interests of any particular group. Hence Rex will not subscribe to an affirmative policy to simply fulfil a quota for a minority group.”

Gender pay gap data was released for the first time on Tuesday by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and measures the difference between average pay of men and women across an entire organisation irrespective of position or seniority.

Minister for Women Katy Gallagher said the release of the data from almost 5,000 private sector employers is a “historic step towards transparency and accountability in addressing gender inequality”.

“The gender pay gap is a persistent and complex problem that costs the Australian economy $51.8 billion every year,” she said.

“Transparency and accountability are critical for driving change. By shining a light on gender pay gaps at an employer level, we are arming individuals and organisations with the evidence they need to take meaningful action to accelerate closing the gender pay gap in Australian workplaces.”

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