National’s ‘pay equity’ Bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing

The Government’s new Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill is a cynical attempt to close the door on future equal pay settlements and represents a major distortion of the initial principles of pay equity negotiated by the Government, unions and employers, says the Public Service Association.

The Bill is likely to have its first reading this week, and is being incorrectly presented to the New Zealand public as a pathway to equal pay. In fact, the Bill will make it significantly more difficult for workers in female-dominated occupations to pursue pay equity claims by placing new and unreasonably onerous requirements on claimants.

"The Bill as it stands has cherry-picked the positive notes from the Joint Working Group’s recommendations and spun them alongside law changes that actually limit women’s ability to achieve pay free from discrimination," says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.

"It’s completely incompatible with the actual recommendations of the JWG, and if it was already law, the care and support settlement for historically undervalued workers like Kristine Bartlett never could have come about."

"It is a completely deliberate and calculated move by the Government to clamp down on future claims, and it shows clearly that they value the unfair status quo above principles of basic human rights."

The PSA’s critiques of the Bill are outlined in the attached document, but the main concerns include:

- Onerous barriers to establishing the merit of equal pay claims before they can even proceed to be assessed

- A new hierarchy of comparator roles that limits the ability of women to choose appropriate male comparators to help determine the true value of their work

- The removal of the right to seek back-pay in all new pay equity claims, regardless of the extent and nature of the pay discrepancy

- Transitional provisions that unfairly stilt current claims so that they would be judged retrospectively through the new proposed legislation

"It’s simply not ok to continue to underpay workers in female-dominated work just because the Government, as a large employer of underpaid women, is getting worried about the financial burden, or because employers in the wider economy want to continue to profit from the undervalued labour of women," says Polaczuk.

"We’re calling on all of our politicians - particularly the women - to vote against this restrictive Bill, even if it means crossing the floor."

"We have always welcomed an update to the original Equal Pay Act 1972, but it can be done under the principles agreed by the Joint Working Group rather than by steamrolling good process in an attempt to undermine workers and the unions that represent them."

"It’s difficult to even call the new Bill by its given title - this piece of legislation has very little do with achieving equal pay and is much more about shutting it down before it gets going."