• Posted on: 30/06/2021
  • 2 minutes to read

Elizabeth Orr was a leader in pay equity and equal pay in Aotearoa for more than 50 years.

She was instrumental in establishing the 1972 Equal Pay Act and continued to advocate for the Act and its importance for New Zealand women for the rest of her life.

The work of Elizabeth and her colleagues in the campaign for equal value and equal pay (CEVEP) undoubtedly paved the way for the PSA’s successes and ongoing work for equality for women workers, alongside other unions.

Her values of fairness and social justice are shared by our union and we will always remember Elizabeth as a giant in the movement for women’s rights.

In the 1960s, Elizabeth was a member of the Joint Committee of Women and Employment which campaigned for equal pay and employment opportunities. She was at the first meeting of the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women (NACEW) in 1967, becoming a member and later a patron.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1972 and Elizabeth took the unwavering stand that the Act covered equal pay for work of equal value, as well as equal pay for women and men doing the same job. She long held that the Court’s interpretation of the Act in the 1986 Clerical Workers Union case was erroneous. The outcome of Kristine Bartlett’s case for pay equity for workers in aged care proved her right.

Elizabeth’s historical knowledge contributed to the successful legal arguments made by Kristine Bartlett and the Service & Food Workers Union to the Employment Court and Appeal Court.

Elizabeth’s friend and fellow campaigner Martha Coleman expressed the essence of her work and activism when she said:

“Thank you Elizabeth for your energy and commitment. Thank you for understanding how central pay equity is for all women, not least those in low paid occupations. Thank you for the letters to the editor, the papers you wrote, the people you lobbied, the organisations you brought on board. Thank you for banging pots and pans and protesting during the repeal of the Employment Equity Act. But most of all thank you for never giving up.”

There’s no better description of a life long campaigner for equality than that!

The PSA wishes to thank Martha Coleman and Linda Hill for kindly sharing their memories of Elizabeth, who passed away on April 22.