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National’s pay equity legislation is being canned

Wednesday 1st November 2017

New government, new approach.


Julie Anne Genter.
Julie Anne Genter.

Photo: VNP/Phil Smith

The new Government is making it clear that pay equity is one of its highest priorities.

It was announced today that the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill introduced to Parliament in July would be scrapped and redrafted.

The bill followed a multi-billion dollar settlement with aged care workers and aimed to ensure equality in pay rates for female-dominated jobs.

However, Minister for Women and Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter said the bill would have made it impossible - or extremely difficult - for women in underpaid professions to take similar claims.

“In some ways it was worse than the status quo,” she told The Wireless.

One of the hurdles in the bill relates to the definition of “merit”, as employers have the power to decide if a pay equity claim has merit before bargaining can begin.

“I think the difference is the previous government viewed an issue like this as a liability and a cost … which I think is appalling,” she said.

“Our government should be leading by example in a society where all women are paid fairly.”

The plan is to scrap the Employment Bill and write new legislation that adheres to recommendations made last year by the Working Group on Pay Equity Principles.

The working group, made up of employer, union and government representatives, was created to develop principles to prevent female-dominated workforces from being systemically undervalued.

Photo: RNZ/Eva Corlett

“Often, we’re talking about Māori and Pacific women working incredibly long hours being systematically underpaid,” she said.

“It won’t take much work to make some changes and draft a new bill … this is a high priority for the Government and I personally will make it a high priority to help women overcome historic inequality.”

The union E tū, which led aged care workers in their bid for an equal pay settlement, said they’d been given a commitment during the election campaign that National’s bill would be scrapped.

“Had this bill proceeded, these women would have been forced into a long process of ... proving merit,” E tū Equal Pay Coordinator Yvette Taylor said.

National Council of Women president Vanisa Dhiru said the persistent pay gap is worse for some groups of women because of racism, transphobia and other forms of “oppression”.

“As New Zealanders we like to tell ourselves that we are equal - in fact, we pride ourselves on it. But there’s a gap between what we think happens and what actually happens. The pay gap is proof of this.”

According to StatsNZ, the gender pay gap is at 9.4 percent, and hasn’t budged much in the past decade.

The Minister for Women portfolio is one the Green Party requested and Genter believes on issues of gender equality, “New Zealand can be a leader again”.

“Reaching equity isn’t just going to be about court cases. We want to ensure there’s a clear pathway and process that enables women to achieve equal pay.” 

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