8:50 AM Tuesday Nov 10, 2015
Catriona MacLennan: Equal Pay Day – a message to Len Brown
Auckland Mayor Len Brown will today be asked to make a commitment to equal pay for Auckland women.
November 10 is Equal Pay Day. There is 14 per cent of the year left to run and, as New Zealand women on average earn 14 per cent an hour less than men, women effectively work from now until the end of the year unpaid.
Members of the Pay Equity Coalition Auckland, which comprises organisations representing thousands of Auckland women, will hold a lunchtime rally in Aotea Square to mark the day and to sign a letter to Mr Brown and to the Auckland Council, calling on them to show leadership to Auckland employers.
The letter will ask Mr Brown and councillors to:
• Commit to providing pay equity for council staff and contractors; and
• Provide leadership by urging all employers in Auckland to provide pay equity for their staff and contractors.
It is 122 years since New Zealand women became the first in the world to win the vote, but in pay equity and many other areas, New Zealand’s proud record of leading the way has turned to a sorry state of falling behind. No progress has been made in recent years in closing the gap between what men and women earn.
Following court proceedings already lodged seeking pay equity, and with other cases looming, the Government in October moved to set up a joint working group to develop principles for dealing with claims of pay equity under the Equal Pay Act 1972. Minister of State Services Paula Bennett and Minister for Workplace relations Michael Woodhouse said the group would recommend agreed principles on pay equity that could be applied in all sectors of the economy.
The Court of Appeal in October 2014 in the case of Terranova Homes & Care Ltd v Service and Food Workers Union Nga Ringa Tota Incorporated had held that women in predominantly female workforces could make claims for pay equity under the Equal Pay Act. The case was referred back to the Employment Court for further action, but that is on hold until March 2016 while the working group meets.
The Government is stepping up to deal with the issue of pay equity and now it’s time for the mayor and councillors of Auckland to do the same.
And, while we’re at it, let’s have an end to some of these myths about equal pay:
Myth 1: Doesn’t New Zealand already have an Equal Pay Act – why is anything else needed?
Yes, the Equal Pay Act was passed in New Zealand in 1972. That is 43 years ago and women are still earning less than men. A law providing only for equal pay clearly is therefore not enough to close the pay gap.
Myth 2: Don’t women choose to go into certain jobs – women like working with children and they earn less because they do enjoyable jobs.
Women are over-represented in many low-paying jobs. Those jobs are essential to the functioning of our community – for example, caregiving, nursing and early childhood education. If women left those jobs tomorrow and only took high-paying jobs, there would be no-one to care for the elderly and carry out other essential work. It is therefore not a valid argument to say that women could choose to go into other occupations to earn more.
Myth 3: Don’t men earn more because they do dirty jobs women aren’t willing to do, such as plumbing?
Both caregiving and plumbing are jobs we need people to do. They are both valuable to our community and the people who do them should be paid rates which reflect that value. When I was in my early 20s, my 89-year-old grandmother lived with me before she passed away. Caring for elderly people involves toileting them and cleaning up if they are incontinent. The workers who do this are incredibly kind, patient and compassionate. There are very few people in our community who would be willing to do such a job.
Myth 4: Men work longer hours than women do.
Actually, that’s not true. It’s just that a lot of the work women do is unpaid – we don’t count the unpaid work women do at home and caring for children and elderly relatives as “work.”
Myth 5: Women are not as well-qualified as women and don’t have as much workforce experience.
Women earn less than men even when they have equal skills and experience. The 2015 Remuneration Survey by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand shows male chartered accountants in New Zealand earn an average $45,573 more than females, the widest pay gap since 2010. The data shows the pay gap emerges within five years of accountants starting in the industry. Work and career breaks do not affect the figures. Both the New Zealand Law Society and the Auckland Women Lawyers Association have statistics demonstrating lack of advancement for women in the law.
Myth 6: Aren’t women lower-paid because they take time out of the workforce to have children?
No, having children does not account for the gender pay gap. It also applies to women who don’t have children. Further, having children is essential to the future of our society, so we should not be penalising women financially for reproducing.
Myth 7: Don’t men earn more because they do unpleasant shift-work and work at weekends?
Many women, including nurses, caregivers and cleaners, do shift-work and also work at weekends.
Myth 8: Wouldn’t pay equity be very expensive and jeopardise economic growth?
New Zealand can afford pay equity. It is a choice. Successive governments in recent years have spent billions of dollars on tax cuts. The Government in the 2015 budget announced it would write off up to $1.7 billion owing in child support penalties. Since 2008, Inland Revenue has written off $5 billion in tax debt. We can afford pay equity if we choose to do so. In Queensland, pay equity is being phased in gradually over a number of years.
The council wants to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city. Cities are not liveable for people on the lowest incomes, who do not earn enough to live on and to support their families. The council has 1920 employees earning over $100,000 – most of them are men. It also has more than 1500 employees earning less than the Living Wage – many of these workers are women with years of experience.
It’s easy to say pay equity is a trivial issue if you are male and will never be affected by it. Imagine how you would feel if you earned 14 per cent less an hour every year of your working life simply because of your gender.
The gender pay gap means women struggle financially to bring up children and have far lower retirement savings than men. The gender pay gap is actually extremely relevant to the housing crisis – because women are lower-paid, it is much harder for them to afford high rents in Auckland and buying a home is even more difficult.
Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and member of the Pay Equity Coalition Auckland.
The Pay Equity Coalition Auckland comprises: Auckland Feminist Action, Auckland Grey Power Association Inc, Auckland Women’s Centre, Auckland Women Lawyers Association, Business and Professional Women New Zealand, EEO Trust, New Zealand Human Rights Commission, National Council of Women New Zealand, NZ Pacific Women’s Watch, North Shore Women’s Centre, SHINE Safer Homes in NZ Everyday, UN Women, Unions Auckland, Women’s Health Action Trust, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Women’s Studies Association, Working Women’s Resource Centre, YWCA Auckland.
By Catriona MacLennan