How to win at equal pay


On April 18, the Government and unions announced that people working in aged care and disability support and home and community support services will receive pay rises of up to 50 per cent, and proper recognition of their qualifications reflected in their pay.

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The pay increases are on track to kick in from July 1, with the new starting rate set at $19 an hour – up from minimum wage – an extra $5000 a year if you are a full time worker. People cheered and burst into tears on hearing their new pay rates – a pay rise that will have a very real impact on their lives and those of their families.

This win is many years in the making, most recently with the legal case being fronted by union member Kristine Bartlett, and supported by many PSA members working in the sector, who spoke up about their work, lobbied Parliament and talked to their communities. The PSA has worked hard with E Tū and NZNO, employers and government representatives to reach this historic agreement.

PSA delegate Helen Amey spoke to Government MPs alongside other equal pay advocates to lobby for equal pay. Amey has been working in the sector for eight years and held a level 3 national certificate but was on minimum wage.

“This is a victory for all working women,” she says. “It shows what we can do when we stand together for a better working life. It shows what we can achieve when we join a union. And it shows what we can achieve when our unions work together with providers and government.”

As over 400 meetings happen around the country to vote on the settlement, union numbers are growing as more people realise the real life difference being a PSA member can make to their lives.

Forgotten occupations

While the care and support settlement has been met with joy, it has prompted a discussion that the healthcare sector hasn’t answered yet: who else is entitled to equal pay?

People working in community mental health have already expressed concern that staff will leave when the settlement comes into effect, seeking better paid employment in aged care, home and disability support.

While the new pay rates cover intellectual disability workers, it excludes mental health workers, who can work for as little as $17 an hour or below in challenging conditions.

It exposes a major consequence of excluding mental health workers from the initial settlement – now, members with years of experience in their field could be paid less than newly-qualified home and disability support staff, which is unfair.

Minimum care and support pay rates have been set, but they haven't been applied to mental health workers yet.

Kerry Davies, who was the PSA negotiator for the care and support settlement, says the PSA are advocating for mental health support workers to get equal pay and are taking legal action.

“We are filing an equal pay case for mental health support workers and asking the Employment Relations Authority to make a determination of the equal pay rate for mental health support workers, who will be speaking up about the complexity and value of their work."

With the momentum from the Care and Support settlement, the PSA is also negotiating equal pay for social workers at Oranga Tamariki, administration and clerical workers in DHBs and investigating equal pay for library assistants.

Locking women out of Equal Pay

After the victory of unions on the care and support workers settlement, and the pay equity Principles recommended by the Joint Working Group, the Equal Pay Act 1972 needed to be updated to include the priniciples of equal pay.

However, the draft Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill will repeal the Equal Pay Act 1972 (introduced by the Government) and replace it with something that will effectively lock many women out of equal pay. The addition of new thresholds and a "proximity principle" not agreed by the Joint Working Group puts an unfair burden on women and their unions to prove their case.

The Bill includes a new principle that could have stopped the care and support workers settlement from ever happening. Unions were able to compare a care and support worker's pay and work to a range of comparable jobs, including that of a corrections officer (around $26 or more) because the skills used and the degree of effort and responsibility employed is at the same level, if not more.

The new ‘Proximity Principle’ means that Kristine Bartlett would have had to look around the Terranova rest home for her pay comparator; for example male caretakers, who are themselves often undervalued.

“We don’t want to be forced into a position where women taking equal pay claims end up comparing themselves to jobs that are either themselves undervalued or aren’t actually the best comparators that exist, says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.

Polaczuk says that releasing the draft Bill in the same week as the equal pay win was a cynical move and the timing seems suspicious.

“The Bill is an attempt to ensure that we never again receive a $2 billion settlement in the way we did with the care and support workforce.”

“It’s a deliberate pulling up of the ladder to stop unions being able to use legislation to require the government to provide equal pay for women.”

The draft Bill also introduces the possibility of market issues when considering equal pay claims.
“The ability to pay is never something that should be taken into account when a woman is claiming her fundamental human right."

"Employment Court Chief Judge Colgan reminded us that this kind of cost-based argument was also made against the abolition of slavery."

Equally alarming is that, if passed, all pay equity claims currently filed will be treated under the new law rather than the old one. This will mean that all claims waiting to be heard could face a tougher time than under the current law. This is contrary to an important principle that new legislation should not retrospectively reduce human rights, which is particularly important when a case is before the courts.

What’s next for Worth 100%

The PSA strongly opposes the proposed Bill, as it would diminish women’s rights to equal pay if passed in its current form. We will be doing everything within our power to ensure that any law that is passed is fair, with an improvement in rights, not a weakening

We will put pressure on any incoming government after 23 September to repeal this Bill if passed as is, and offer something that actually enforces women’s human rights.

So while we celebrate the win for the care and support sector, we are looking ahead to how we can preserve and enhance women’s rights in New Zealand and who else we can support to achieve
equal pay.

You can help achieve equal pay

There’s never been a better time to get involved in our Worth100% campaign. With the momentum from the Care and Support settlement, our cases ready to be filed, and a bad Bill up for debate, we have our work cut out for us. Get involved now to make sure you’re a part of the planned days of action and support women in New Zealand being paid what they’re worth – 100%. We’ve already made history, but we’re not stopping there!

You can become a PSA equal pay advocate by joining up on our website: psa.org.nz/equalpay