Tens of thousands of women have been given a new weapon in the fight for equal pay after a landmark court decision.
Both sides of the debate have called the Employment Court’s ruling on Thursday a “significant” shift, which is likely to give unions more power to fight employers over gender discrimination.
Even when it isn’t gender discrimination!
The Employment Court has ruled women in female-dominated industries can now compare themselves to men in other industries requiring similar skills when pushing for pay equality.
Employers had argued women workers should only be compared with men in the same industry doing the same work and warned a broader view would be “unworkable”.
However, the court rejected the employers’ interpretation, claiming they could “simply perpetuate discrimination in rates of pay to women”.
This is a fairly radical extension of the law. The law was passed so that if an employer had men and women all doing exactly the same job, and they were paying the men more than the women, it would be illegal.
The court has now interpreted this as saying now they no longer have to be doing the same job, or even be in the same industry. It can compare the job of say a teacher to a police officer and decide for all of New Zealand that teachers must all be paid the same as police officers!
Currently industries traditionally considered “women’s work” could continue to pay women poorly simply because a small group of male co-workers shared their low wages, the court said.
This is the key point. There was no evidence at all that male workers doing the same job were being paid more. In fact they were not.
One can debate about whether or not courts should have the power to declare workers in one industry must be paid the same as workers in another industry. I don’t think they should. But what is galling is there has been no debate in Parliament and no law change.
TerraNova executive director Terry Bell said the company was still considering whether to appeal the court’s decision.
I hope they do. Such a radical and far reaching decision should be made explicitly by Parliament.