Guest Post: Government shows leadership on equal pay

A guest post by the :

John Key’s Government has shown true leadership on the issue of for working women.  It set up a high-powered group led by the next Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and including  Phil O’Reilly, unions and Government Negotiators, tasked with developing principles under the Act 1972.

This was a bold and brave move by the Government and the fruits of the group’s efforts can deliver real gains for working women and their families.  It has developed and agreed comprehensive principles for the implementation of equal pay in female-dominated work in New Zealand. The agreed principles are here.

In just four pages, the group has established a process by which women doing work that is predominantly performed by women can make a claim for equal pay, and have outlined the assessment process as well as stating how a claim will be settled. 

The process suggested provides that any employee or group of employees can raise a claim and contains a list of factors that must be considered when determining the merit of a claim. 

These factors are not overly legalistic or technocratic.  They include consideration of whether the work has been historically undervalued because of the origins or history of the work, or whether there is some characterisation or labelling of the work as “women’s work” or a social, cultural or historical phenomena whereby women are considered to have “natural” or “inherent” qualities that may have led to historical undervaluation of the work. 

The assessment will consider whether the remuneration paid has properly accounted for the nature of the work, the levels of responsibility associated with the work, the conditions under which the work is performed, and the degree of effort required to perform the work.   

The claim will then be thoroughly assessed by looking at the skills, responsibilities, conditions of the work and the degrees of effort of the work done by the women. 

One important aspect of the assessment is that it must fully recognise the importance of skills, responsibilities, effort and conditions that are commonly over-looked or undervalued in female-dominated work such as social skills, responsibility for the wellbeing of others, emotional effort, cultural knowledge and sensitivity. 

The assessment of the claim can also include an examination of the work being performed and that of appropriate comparators. These may include male comparators performing work which is the same as or similar, or aspects of which are the same or substantially similar, to the work being considered.

It has been quite a journey to get these principles agreed by employers, unions and the Government Negotiators, and comes after a landmark decision by the Employment Court in the Kristine Bartlett case.

Working women in New Zealand have been undervalued for too long and implementation of this new approach to equal pay would be an historic break-through and a lasting legacy of this Government.

Fleur Fitzsimons is a solicitor with the PSA who works on equal pay.

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