How to improve pay gender equality

Written By: - Date published: 8:49 am, January 15th, 2016 - 17 comments
Categories: discrimination, feminism, human rights, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s been a hardy annual finding of late – the pay gap between males and females is getting steadily worse. 2012 “Gender pay gap widens in New Zealand” *. 2013 “Pay gap between men and women slowly widening”. 2014 “The pay gap between men and women in New Zealand continued to grow last year”. 2015 “Women’s pay drops further behind men’s”. 2016 “The pay gap between men and women is the worst it’s been in almost a decade”. (The 2016 piece by Amelia Wade at The Herald is really good, looking at topics like “How much less do women earn than men?”, “Why do women earn less?”, “What’s being done to close the gap?” and more.)

Part of the blame for the pay gap lies with National governments. “One of the first acts of the incoming National Government in 1990 was to dump pay equity legislation in place at that time”. One of the first acts of the incoming National government in 2009 was to abolish the Department of Labour’s Pay and Employment Equity Unit.

Labour governments, in contrast, have been somewhat successful in closing the gap:

Over the longer term, separate figures from the quarterly employment survey show that the gender pay gap closed sharply after the Equal Pay Act of 1975 [Labour government], and again in the late 1980s and more slowly from 1997 to 2009.

The later two periods of gains coincided with Labour governments when unions were relatively strong, reflected most notably in a big 20 per cent pay rise for public sector nurses in 2005.

But the improvements stalled when unions were weakened first by the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 and again by changes such as the 90-day trial period under the current John Key-led Government which took office in 2008.

In recent events, a loss in court last year led to the formation of a government working group on equal pay which is due to report in March this year. It will be interesting to see what this group comes up with, but I’ve got some suggestions right now for improving the pay gap:

(1) Since the Equal Pay Act of 1975 had an impact we should study it, revise it, and strengthen it. (Let’s have another look at the legislation that National dumped in 1990 too.)

(2) Since a big pay rise for a female dominated profession had an impact in 2005, and since “almost half the women workers in New Zealand are in occupations that are more than 80 per cent female, and female-dominated occupations are lower paid”, we should pick some of these occupations and legislate to raise their pay.

(3) Since periods of gains for women coincided with periods when unions were “relatively strong” we should act to strengthen unions instead of undermining them.

(4) Since periods of gains for women coincided with Labour governments, and National clearly doesn’t give a damn, we should elect Labour governments.

Then there’s just the minor matter of addressing the entrenched sexism that permeates the workforce and society…

* Government figures for 2012 disagree with the quoted article, but note that it says:

The quarterly employment survey shows the gender gap has increased in the year to September by 1.3 per cent, from 12.85 per cent to 14.18 per cent. Pay Equity Challenge Coalition said it was the biggest gap it had seen in a decade.

While the Government bases its measurements on data collected annually through the NZ income survey, the Statistics New Zealand quarterly employment survey provided more regular information, obtained from employers as well as employees, she said. “The best [the gap] has ever been using the measurements we use is 12 per cent. It’s still a gap and it’s still unacceptable.”

17 comments on “How to improve pay gender equality”

  1. greywarshark 1

    RADIONZ this morning with Grant Robertson talking about work at all for humans and the trend to robotics, automation. I fear that pay equity must be fought for continually but even more the ways that work and employment can be organised with a parallel economy that comes from the grassroots. What we will get from these humanoids in politics and in business and the upper classes is more direr cant about people being self-reliant or lazy growing exponentially. While they embrace whatever is most politically and financially expedient.

    Grant Robertson talking emphatically about the way things will have to be on radio, sounded as if he was repeating word for word what might have been said in 1990.
    All about perhaps retraining for six different careers (while the state charges you for doing that). Changing education to prepare you for this changing environment where the idea of staying in a job for thirty years will be old hat. (Cripes that has been the case for so long, at such cost, that we have had to boil the hat with onions for hat stew.)

    Pay equity. Nice to have!
    Labour in Paris looking at future challenges
    Updated at 8:46 am today
    According to new figures, nearly half of all jobs could be automated within two decades and it’s now expected people in the workforce won’t just change jobs, but also industries during their lives.

    • Colonial Viper 1.1

      Grant Robertson has no fucking idea what he’s talking about in terms of the “future of work”. Yet another long term 6 figure salary public servant who has very limited understanding and experience of what is going on in the real world outside of what Forbes and the Economist is telling him.

  2. greywarshark 2

    Some good news about women who have improved their conditions.
    (By co-operation, commitment to the group and support for the plan which I think is the blueprint for how we ordinary folk will help survive the future.)

    Refugees planted Cotton Seed and boy did it grow
    Updated at 8:28 am today
    Lauren Baker –

    A clothing label designed and produced entirely by migrant and refugee women in Auckland, has gone from selling to friends and family to getting bulk commercial orders.

    • red-blooded 2.1

      All very interesting (I’m on holiday and listened to the same interviews), but not entirely relevant, surely. And, to be honest, your reference to women starting a clothing company sounds very like the “Be more self-reliant” cant that you were saying you didn’t want to hear in your first comment, greywarshark. Good on these women, but this is not how to improve the pay gap. If anything, it’s an illustration of the fact that women are often found in traditional, undervalued working roles. I bet they’d be earning more if it was a group of males who’d started an IT or mechanics business…

      There has to be an active role from government, unions, the media and the education sector, as well as from parents and of course employers and individual employees if this problem is to be solved. There was a large body of work going on amongst unions and the last Labour government, looking at how to evaluate the skills and demands of various male and female dominated working roles, so as to establish a basis for pay equity claims and government action with regards to state employees. It was slow and frustrating and the process was less than ideal, but it was happening and it was a direct attempt to deal with the problem through considered, structured action. Needless to say, the working parties and action plan were scrapped when the Nats took over. Sigh.

      Of course even that kind of approach doesn’t address the issue of bias and inequality within a workplace, biased hiring and promotions decisions etc. We still have a deeply sexist society. Look at all the fuss about the attempts to have gender equity considered when selecting Labour candidates before the last election. There’d be the same uproar about any serious attempt to take on patriarchal practices in employment.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. This has to be an ongoing struggle. Women shouldn’t have to keep on re-proving the same thing again and again and again.

      • greywarshark 2.1.1

        In referring to the women who have started their own business, I am indicating to red blooded women one of the ways that others are improving their position. Red blooded women are actively looking at their financial situation, and seeing how it can be improved now, not waiting ever more hopelessly for government to do the needed action and put policies in place to stop women’s wages continually falling when measured to men’s which are themselves falling.

        You refer to what I said about cant from the PTB and how it is used to continue and improve their own comfortable positions. While they embrace whatever is most politically and financially expedient. But the same line about cant can be used about low-paid women. Women should keep on requesting, demanding better minimum pay and conditions from politicians and business, but while they wait for some action, which is laggardly, it is expedient for them to take whatever steps they can to improve their uncomfortable situation.

        If their resilience leads them to forming a co-operative with other strivers or strugglers I don’t diss that. By all means try for self-reliance, always remembering that even big business gets concessions from the government, and having a mini business does not mean you are much better off than being an employee though having more regular hours, i.e. lots of hard work for small return, though eventually you may be well paid if all goes well.

        As you point out about women’s place in the employment market, they are in the underpaid sphere, and that has been revealed decades ago. It is well known and that it is difficult to bring their wages up is well revealed. The common comment that comes from RW on this will be that they should find a job in a better paid sector, or get more education and rise out of the unskilled, semi-skilled class. But this ignores the facts that these low-paid jobs are work that needs to be done, is wanted to be done, and those workers are not being fairly compensated for doing it. People should get a living wage, men or women.
        That would mean a rise far beyond measured inflation for last year.

  3. shorts 3

    I think one of the first things that need to be done is stop the use of the phrase “improve pay gender equality” – which is commonly used – eradication should be used or a similar term

    its not acceptable that a proportion of the popular is discriminated against – even worse its the majority of the population

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    and National clearly doesn’t give a damn

    This is incorrect – National does give a damn which is why they keep undermining any and all attempts to equalise pay for equal work. If employers couldn’t pay some people less then wages would increase across the board and profits would decrease and National wouldn’t allow that.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    In terms of gender pay equity I think the plan is to drive all wages down to a convergence at the same low Vietnam/Cambodia level.

  6. David 6

    If there is a pay gap, why do companies not just employ women? They are cheaper for the same thing are they not?

  7. greywarshark 7

    Good question though perhaps ingenuous. There is a sexism approach, which is similar to why employers don’t employ well qualified foreigners, called racism.

    And it may be that women don’t offer for some jobs perhaps because they have children, have been out of the work force having and caring for babies, and are not seen to be up to the minute as is required by an employer, and of course kids who go to creche are continually getting sick with some bug they have acquired from the others or vice versa. That means time off work, which is a damned nuisance to an employer.

    Then there is a new trend of conformity, where you are judged on whether you ‘fit’ and are denied consideration if you aren’t seen to be in tune with the rest of the staff. That could be called groupthink.

    Then there is simple, plain, prejudice where assumptions are made, preferences rule, and the applicant doesn’t stand a chance, is either under-qualified or over-qualified.

  8. Problem is, a lot of people are like me and think “So what?” when presented with differences in average numbers. This average is lower than that average – well, that’s kind of interesting, but completely useless. You can’t direct policy at an average number, you can only direct it at concrete situations and activities.

    By all means let’s identify actual examples of gender pay bias and address them, but that can only be done on a case-by-case basis (and not using weak arguments like “I think this job is like that one, and that one has higher pay, so that’s why I should be paid more). Average numbers are of academic interest only.

  9. Peter Lewis 9

    Part of being human is that we are hard-wired to attract and retain the best possible mate.

    For men, this means looking for the most visually attractive female, while women
    usually seek to bond with a man who is financially secure.

    So naturally women spend a lot of time on improving their appearance while men
    focus on their careers and financial security.

    Now we know the success in any endeavour is largely a function on the amount of time we spend on it, and both men and women have only 24 hours in any one day.

    So it should come as no surprise that generally women are better looking than men and men earn more than women.

    Thus any legislative attempts to remedy this imbalance are, eventually, doomed to fail while they run counter to human nature.

  10. Takere 10

    It ain’t rocket science …. just pay it!

  11. Damian 11

    In the gender-issue-era it is really strange to observe some salary discrimination in the field of sex. It apperas that one’s sex is not determined with birth, so also his/her salary depends on how will he/she feel and what woudl do with his/her body? I hope everyone see how stupid and pointless it looks.

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