Women speak up

The women’s conference launched the PSA’s Worth 100% campaign to close the gender pay gap by 2020 – an ambitious but necessary goal. A conference highlight was the panel of women talking about their work. It provided a powerful statement about the undervaluing of women’s work and the lack of pay transparency. Below are some extracts.

Home-based support worker

Adele mcfaddenA typical work day includes showering three people, administering medications, four hours of housework, driving for approximately 2 hours, and clocking around 35 kms per day. When I started as a support worker five years ago most clients living in a three bedroom home received two hours of housework per week. Over the last two years this housework has gradually been cut back to only one hour. This means we have to work harder, faster and get paid less to do the same work in less time. I feel that this is unfair to both the client and support worker.

Support workers earn little over the minimum wage. The current training undertaken by support workers to do the job and the nationally recognised qualifications achieved are not recognised in our pay. This is not only undervaluing of my work but it also undervalues the people we support. We are not paid travel time and are not fully reimbursed for expenses to our vehicles.

My work is very valuable to the government. We keep people in their own homes which saves the country millions per year. We love our job, but sadly loving your job as a support worker means working long hours and sometimes working two jobs to support our families.  We are here to provide an essential service to the community but I feel undervalued and underpaid.

Adele McFadden



Medical secretary

nancy mcshaneI work in a psychiatric hospital. A large part of my work consists of typing, filing and recording patient data. A common misconception is that the skills required are a fast typing speed and an ability to spell correctly, very little else. While these are vital attributes, I consider that excellent, communication and relationship-building skills, together with a high degree of emotional intelligence, are absolute prerequisites for my position.

On a daily basis, a hospital administrator may be required to engage with people who are terminally ill, mentally unwell, frightened, distressed, lost or bereaved. Regardless of whether such work is done by men or women, surely it should be dignified with a wage that acknowledges the vitally important contribution it makes to society in general.

We have been offered a 0.7% increase. This is totally unacceptable for a group that has endured considerable financial hardship offer a long period of time. I question why it is deemed acceptable to place such a low monetary value on the wok we do, purely and simply because we are female.

Nancy McShane


University admin assistant

Lucy GrayMy job title does not reflect what I do. As well as doing my own duties, I also cover for the PA, a higher level  for which I’m not remunerated. I’m the induction coordinator, the fire warden, the records manager. I work with clinical staff who have to apply for reimbursements from the DHB. I am one of only two staff to have this interface with the DHB and have spent a great deal of time building up the relationships with other admin staff so I can coordinate these arrangements. This is not recognised in my job description.

In addition I manage a 400K conference travel fund, scholarships, internet rounds, paying invoices. I have to absorb a lot of information. I’m secretary to nearly 10 committees and attend 15 regular meetings. Surprisingly when I’m not doing these tasks, I’ve been asked to wax the leather furniture! 

For myself and many other admin staff in the university, our work is often classified as “generalist” which diminishes the value of the work that’s done. We absolutely need these “generalists”. They are essential to the smooth running of our organisation.  

Lucy Gray



Social worker

Debbie TaylorI suppose I was naïve but when I first became a social worker I didn’t realise what the pay rates would be like and how bad they were.

When I worked at the district, I dealt with all  sorts of things. Sometimes I sat with people who were dying,  sometimes with families who’d just been given the news a family member had a terminal illness. I had to do statutory work with people with dementia and get court orders to go into care.

After some years, I thought my pay was pretty good because I’d moved up and was getting near the top of the scale. I was on nearly $60,000.

Then my brother came to work for the dhb. He was an accountant and had taken a pay cut. He asked me one day what I was on. I told him and he couldn’t believe it. He was paid twice as much. He said: “We’ve both got degrees though you spent longer at university  than I did. You make decisions about people’s lives that are really critical and I handle money.”

I don’t think the inequality in pay had occurred to him before. We’d chosen different paths and my path was one associated with caring and a women’s role, his path was accountancy, a more traditional male role.

Debbie Taylor

Debbie is a former social worker and now a PSA organiser for Child, Youth and Family



Policy adviser

Ceinwyn bannisterMy day-to-day work is preparing written reports for council and committees. They include a lot of analysis of options, financial risks, and reputational risks. I attend a lot of meetings, a lot of briefings and a lot of work after hours when meetings overrun.

Our salary is not in our collective agreement. Our jobs are graded within a salary band. Generally you start on 85 percent of your salary band. The basis is that if you’re good, you’ll improve with merit. We have annual performance reviews and we’re graded from 1 to 5 – one, you need development, and five, you are absolutely amazing. You go along and are told you are doing a really good job and are highly  valued – and you’ll be graded three. So you won’t get a merit pay rise.

For particular skills where they struggle to recruit - planners, engineers, building inspectors – councils will pay a premium. These are jobs predominantly done by men.

Some managers go to bat for their staff and mark higher; others mark a lot harder. You have no consistency, no transparency. You can’t challenge the process.

Ceinwyn Bannister


This article is from the August 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.