Big win for equal pay

As this edition of Working Life went to press, we got the fantastic news that the Government had accepted the recommendations of the Joint Working Group on Equal Pay Principles.

PSA staff toast the equal pay win

PSA staff toast the equal pay win

So what does this mean for women and men in low-paid work, and what’s next?

Once again, New Zealand can claim our proud place at the forefront of the move towards gender equality. A working group of unions, business groups and Crown representatives managed to agree a set of principles for bringing equal pay claims – and their advice will become law.

It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is. It’s a first step, and the fight is far from over. But when this legislation passes next year, New Zealand will have a way to make sure women (and men) in female-dominated jobs can overcome the ingrained gender discrimination in their workplaces, and get paid what they’re really worth.

What does it mean?

Any employee or group of employees will be able to approach their employer to bring an equal pay claim. To begin with, they’ll have to prove their work is undervalued – either because it’s seen as “women’s work”, or that it’s “natural” for women to do that kind of work.

Once the claim has been initiated, employer and workers will bargain to resolve it. This will involve assessing the job according to skills, responsibilities, conditions and degrees of effort. If bargaining isn’t successful, it’ll be referred to normal dispute processes – like mediation, facilitation or the Employment Relations Authority.

Part of this will involve finding a “comparator” – that is, a job that’s similar in value to the one being claimed about, with the same level of skill and responsibility and so on, but which is not “women’s work”. The Joint Working Group couldn’t reach agreement on a process for this, so Cabinet’s suggesting a “start in and work outwards” approach. This involves first looking within the claimant’s business, then their industry, then their sector. The PSA and the CTU aren’t so keen on this, and will suggest improvements when the law is debated at select committee.

What’s next?

Legislation will be introduced next year, the Government says, so we’ll be keeping the pressure on through the process to make sure our members’ views are well represented. We’ll make sure the principles are protected and not watered down by politicians. We’ll also keep pursuing existing equal pay claims.

You can play your part by being part of your union, and encouraging other women to join our movement! This is a big win for all of us and shows what we can do if we work with business and government for the benefit of workers. If you’re already a PSA member, become an equal pay advocate! Now more than ever we need to spread our message and educate people that when equal pay is a reality, everyone wins.

Your union membership will also count when we raise equal pay through the bargaining process. The more women workers that are part of the PSA, at a particular site, the better chance we have of being able to get a decent result in bargaining. We’re stronger together, and never more than now.

We’ll also carry on lobbying for other law changes that will help in the equal pay fight – like greater emphasis on equal employment opportunities, paid parental leave and transparency in pay scales.

This is a big win, but there’s more to do. All women are Worth 100%.