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MoneyJuly 25, 2020

What the Equal Pay Amendment Bill means for women

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The Equal Pay Amendment Bill is set to make it easier for women to take collective action over pay equity disputes. But how exactly does it work?

What’s all this then?

On Thursday night, the Equal Pay Amendment Bill was finally passed unanimously by parliament. Minister for women Julie Anne Genter described it as “one of the biggest gains for gender equity in the workplace since the Equal Pay Act 1972”. Meanwhile Andrew Little, the newly appointed minister for workplace relations, said the bill would make it easier for industry-level pay disputes to be resolved and help people avoid the courts.

But isn’t that already the law? What does this new bill address?

Sure, men and women should be paid the same for the same job – this has been enshrined in law for a while. But what about jobs that are historically underpaid because they’re dominated by women? The amendment bill takes the issue further than individual pay disputes and facilitates industry disputes and means that “female-dominated industries” will be able to bargain for higher pay across all workers.

How is the bargaining process different now?

The bill has made the bargaining process easier by setting out guidelines for comparing pay between “female-dominated industries” and their male counterparts.

Back in 2017, care worker Kristine Bartlett had a hard-earned win with the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreement, which confirmed her occupation was underpaid as the result of systemic gender-based discrimination.

Now, a pay equity claim can be raised with an employer if an employee believes their occupation has been undervalued and therefore underpaid on the basis of sex. If the employee disagrees, parties will compare the work to a male-dominated counterpart occupation.

One of the criteria for the comparison is that male employees in jobs used for comparison “have the same, or substantially similar, skills, responsibility, and service”. Examples given of these in the bill include social and communication skills, taking responsibility for the well-being of others, cultural knowledge, and sensitivity.

The bill will apply to workforces that are “approximately 60%” women (Photo: Getty Images)

So what are “female-dominated industries”?

The bill doesn’t list any specific industries, probably because this might exclude future or changing industries. But the amended bill states that it applies to workforces that are “approximately 60%” women. It’s significant that it’s approximate – it doesn’t have to be exactly 60%.

The commentary in the bill points out that a job may no longer be “female-dominated” but could still be affected by historial sex-based undervaluing.

A portion of section 13(C) reads: “In deciding whether it is arguable that work is currently undervalued or has historically been undervalued, consideration may be given to any relevant factor, including … the origins and history of the work, including the manner in which wages have been set”.

At the moment, some occupations considered “female-dominated” would be care workers, retail workers and nurses.

Are the unions involved?

You know it. The Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand approached the government suggesting that the new bargaining framework align with the bargaining frameworks used in the Employment Relations Act. Because whole occupations could ask for pay equity, collective bargaining comes to the fore.

CTU president Richard Wagstaff said the bill’s passing had secured a sustainable and practical way forward. “Working women have been campaigning to equalise the gender pay imbalance for decades. The passing of new equal pay law provides structure and support in fixing the systemic problem of paying women less because of their gender,” he said.

Wagstaff said a multi-faceted approach was needed to solve the gender pay imbalance, and that unions would play a part in this. “When people come together in union to solve an issue they are more powerful and effective than when facing the issue alone,” he said. “Working women in union have successfully secured equal pay settlements for almost 80,000 people in the last four years – for care and support workers, school support workers, social workers at Oranga Tamariki and teacher aides.”

Who’s most pleased with the outcome?

Anyone in teaching, nursing, retail, caregiving, education etc.

Last month, teacher aides settled a three-year-long pay equity claim resulting in pay increases of between 23-34%. The New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa, an educational workers’ union, is one that will likely see some action under the new law.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said the new legislation would make it easier for members to challenge historic pay discrimination. Nancy McShane, a hospital administration worker and union delegate, said the bill was a good start in resolving pay disparity in her industry.

“I know hospital administrators in their 60s who will still be paying off the mortgage in their 80s, and that’s not because they’re bad with money,” she said. “It’s because their female-dominated profession is undervalued and underpaid.”

The healthcare industry more broadly has also had ongoing strikes with regard to pay level.

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