New Zealand PM vows to close public sector gender pay gap by 2021

By on 15/11/2017
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has set a target of achieving equal pay for women in the country’s public service jobs within four years.

Ardern, who is the world’s youngest female head of government, aims to make the public service a catalyst for greater parity in the wider economy – and New Zealand a world leader in gender pay equality.

“If New Zealand is seen as a champion of issues around gender pay gap and pay equity, I would be proud of that,” she said in an interview in Wellington on 7 November. “I know, though, that we will only be seen as a world leader if we’re able to make inroads ourselves.

“Our view is that if we can’t demonstrate that level of leadership at the centre and heart of government, then how can we call on the private sector to do the same? We want to send a message to our CEs that we see it as a priority.”

Ardern, 37, was appointed on 26 October after becoming leader of the Labour Party in August and mounting a determined challenge in a tightly-fought election that resulted in a hung parliament.

She emerged as New Zealand’s third woman prime minister in a coalition with the Green Party and New Zealand First Party after a month of deal-making in which NZFP leader Winston Peters played kingmaker.

Describing herself as “a social democrat” and “progressive”, she stood on a platform that included tackling inequality and improving women’s lives in both the workplace and the home.

New Zealand has a history of gender equality legislation dating back to 1893, when it became the first country in the world to give women the vote. Today the gender pay gap between men and women across the economy is 9.4%, compared to 16.2% in 1998. Within public services, according to government research, the unadjusted pay gap is 14% and the adjusted gap – compensating for factors such as seniority – is 5.3%.

“Overall, my view is that in 2017, we can’t continue to send a message to young women that they can expect to be paid 10 per cent less simply because of gender,” Ardern said.

As part of its gender equality drive, the government has cancelled an Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill introduced by the previous administration, claiming that the legislation would have made it more difficult for women to achieve equal pay.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said the bill, tabled by the National Party, “put significant hurdles in the way of women trying to achieve pay equity”.

Genter also said in a TV debate that she thinks the four-year target was achievable, Australia’s PS News Network reported.

“You make the chief executives of government agencies accountable; put it in their key performance indicators,” she said. “We know there are a whole lot of policies and systems that can be taken to close the gender pay gap.”

A study of gender pay commissioned by the Ministry for Women found that the gap is larger for women on higher incomes, reaching 20%.

Most of the pay gap is now driven by factors that are harder to measure, such as conscious and unconscious bias and differences of choice and behaviour between men and women, according to the report, which was published in March 2017.

In the wider economy, the gender pay gap in Australia is 15%, according to the country’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, while it stands at 22% in Germany, 21% in the UK, 16% in France and 5.5% in Italy, figures from the EU statistics agency Eurostat show.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

One Comment

  1. JH

    16/11/2017 at

    The gender pay gap doesn’t exist in most modern countries. The devil is in the details, the statistics used to gather this data do not include time at work. It is actually illegal to pay women less than men in many of these countries; however, women on average tend to make quality of life choices more often then men, skewing the numbers. What you need to look at is hourly rate, it is the only true measurement worth considering when looking at pay disparity. This is fake news.

    Here’s an idea to fix your perceived issues with a gender pay gap that doesn’t exist. Encourage an economy wide culture of employers sharing pay information with their employees so everyone knows what everyone else makes. It will create healthy competition and allow everyone to understand why they are making more or less than their peers. Problem solved.

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