Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mullings on pay equity

During the Inagural Suffrage Eve Debate I will be particularly interested in the debate over approaches to employment law.

In 2004 Dr Judy McGregor from the Human Rights Commission wrote an interesting submission on the proposed Employment Relations Law Reform Bill
"While there is not a consensus, most commentators, including the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, believe that New Zealand has not complied with its international obligations in relation to pay equity since 1990 when the short-lived Employment Equity Act (1990) was repealed. This omission is one element in the comprehensive legislative and policy framework needed to give effect to pay and employment equity. "

The Employment Equity Act, championed by Helen Clark, only had a short life. The removal of awards under the Employment Contracts Act effectively invalidated any positive impact the legislation may have had. Jobs that were traditionally dominated by female workers continue to be paid less than comparable jobs traditionally dominated by men.

I had a thought that horrified me a little today. Without going and ferreting out the figures, I would not be surprised if the significant increases in the minimum wage since 1999 have had a small positive impact on pay equity, as the lower wage bands flattened out to the new minimum. So to measure progress towards pay equity issue by itself, and to see the wonderous 'market' [cough][cough] at work it would make sense to exclude all minimum wages from the comparison. Not that I am immediately sure how to achieve this of course :)

In 2007 female full-time workers earned 14% less than men. The gender pay gap was 13% in the 2006 survey, and 16% in 2005.

This entails that if progress towards pay equity is to be achieved, we need to see greater progress further up the income scale. Given that the gender pay gap has now been with us for as long as women have been working, I doubt its going to be sorted by employers and employees negotiating among themselves. Pay equity will only be achieved as part of a more structured approach to employment relations, involving specific pay equity enabling legislation, ongoing research and a culture more conducive to collective bargaining.

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