Women’s pay is the furthest it’s been behind men’s pay in 20 years and the ACTU wants the government to take action to address the situation.

The pay gap between men and women is not likely to be reduced, especially if penalty rates are abolished, the ACTU says.

On average, men in full-time work are being paid nearly $15,000 more a year than women, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows.

That is the widest difference in 20 years, partly due to the high salaries paid in the male dominated mining and construction industries.

For part-time workers, the gender pay gap would be wider because a higher proportion of women are in casual jobs.

ACTU president Ged Kearney says it is disappointing and unsurprising that women’s earnings are lagging further behind.

She says the drive by businesses and the federal government to remove penalty rates and keep the minimum wage low, threatens to further widen the pay gap.

“Nearly 60 per cent of the 1.5 million Australian workers on the minimum wage are women and many of them rely on penalty rates to survive,” Ms Kearney said.

“With 40 per cent of households now relying on women as the main breadwinners, a widening pay gap can only mean that families and communities suffer as well.”

Ms Kearney called on the Fair Work act to be changed to reduce discrimination against women.

“There is currently no obligation for employers to show they have seriously considered a request for flexible work arrangements to assist with caring responsibilities,” she said.

“As a result many women face discrimination when they return to work after having children and are pushed out of quality jobs into less secure, poorer paying work.”

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian says the sluggish pay rises in the accommodation, food services, and retail sectors aren’t helping pay rates.

“The mining wage is about two and a half times what you’d get in the retail sector,” he said.

The pay gap between men and women increased by almost eight per cent in the 12 months to May, the fastest pace in three years, the ABS data showed.

Average ordinary full-time gross earnings for men came in at $1,560.50 a week, while women earned $1,274.40.

Men in the mining sector earned $2,585.20, while women workers received $1,970.20.

The latest data from the ABS comes just weeks after an Oxfam report predicted that women won’t achieve equal pay for another 75 years.

The charity is calling for the issue of gender equity to be on the agenda for the G20 leaders conference being held in Brisbane in November.