Women in New Zealand to get new powers to make equal pay claims, under new proposals

By on 17/06/2016 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Erin Polaczuk is national secretary of the Public Service Association

Women in New Zealand will be able to challenge their employers to pay them more based on new criteria put forward by a joint committee.

The government is currently considering recommendations by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles under which women can ask for more pay if a man in a job of equal value – rather than a similar role – earns more.

If accepted by the Cabinet, ministers would amend the Equal Pay Act 1972 accordingly.

Under the changes a woman, who is a carer, for example, can go to her employer and ask why she is not getting paid as much as a man who is doing a different job she deems to be of equal value, for example a correction officer.

Currently, her role would only be compared to someone doing a similar job – for example working in a hospital, even though it’s a different industry.

Under the group’s proposals, published last week, employees can bring pay equity claims if they feel their work is predominantly performed by women and may have been historically undervalued and be subject to systemic undervaluation.

The work does “not have to be identical – it just has to be of equal value,” Erin Polaczuk, national secretary of the Public Service Association (PSA) – New Zealand’s largest union representing nearly 62,000 public servants, said.

In order to determine whether a job is of equal value, negotiating parties should look at four criteria: skills, responsibilities, conditions and degrees of effort, under the group’s recommendations.

Asked whether it was really possible to objectively assess the level of effort associated with a job, Polaczuk said: “There is no absolute way to pluck a number out of the air which is the exact figure that you can scientifically prove the person is worth.

“But it’s for the employer to argue why the person is not worth that amount of money.”

The new principles offer a “basis on which to make a claim and to have a really rational discussion with the employer,” Polaczuk told Global Government Forum. “Previously, there was no set of objective criteria to say: ‘According to these things, this is very likely to be a case of undervaluation.”

The working group, which includes employer, union and government representatives, was established by the government last October in response to a Court of Appeal decision in Terranova v Service and Food Workers Union and Bartlett.

The case involved the Service and Food Workers Union, who brought an equal pay claim on behalf of some people employed by Terranova – a rest home operator.

The plaintiff claimed that the female caregivers employed by the defendant were being paid a lower rate than would be the case if caregiving of the aged were not so substantially female-dominated and argued that caregivers should be paid as much as correction officers because they do a job of equal value.

The court subsequently ruled that the Equal Pay Act 1972 required equal pay for work of equal value rather than the same pay for the same work.

Under the changes put forward by the group, employers receiving claims will be required to immediately notify those of their employees that might also be affected by, or benefit, from the claim.

Polaczuk said: “It’s still triggered by a woman or her union making a claim that her role is undervalued. So it’s still not proactive, it’s still not perfect and we are very mindful of it.”

CTU president, lead union representative on the JWG, Richard Wagstaff, said the group can take pride in the agreed principles.

“We are now closer along the path to achieving equal pay for work of equal value than we ever have been before.

“New Zealand has led the world in equality when in 1893 women won the right to vote. We can still be world leaders, this time in equal pay.”

An annual breakdown of gender pay gaps across New Zealand’s government agencies going back to 2008 was released earlier this year.

It showed that the overall gender pay gap in the public service had dropped one percentage point in seven years, from 15% to 14%. However, adjusted for age, seniority and experience, the pay gap dropped to 5.3%.

The report also showed that some organisations had made headway in reducing pay inequality: The Treasury reduced its gap from 32% to 18%, while the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet dropped from a 28% gap in 2008 to 7% in 2015.

Government chief talent officer Andrew Hampton said at the time that improving diversity in the public sector was an “important focus” for the State Services Commission, but would take time.

Hampton, who has since moved on to lead the Government Communications Security Bureau, said the public sector currently had the highest ever proportion of female chief executives, at 40%, while the proportion of women in senior leadership roles had increased from 39.6% in 2011 to 44.2% in 2015.


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See also:

Female public servants in New Zealand ‘working for free’ until July, due to pay gap

Research tracks gender equality among G20 officials

Katrina Casey announced as new acting chief executive of New Zealand’s education department

New Zealand prime minister John Key announces new top civil service post

Interview: Iain Rennie, state services commissioner, New Zealand

Andrew Hampton, chief talent officer, New Zealand government: exclusive interview

Interview: Jane Halton, Secretary, Department of Finance, Australia

Colin MacDonald, CIO for the government of New Zealand: Exclusive Interview

Interview: Gabriel Makhlouf, Treasury, New Zealand

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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