Women's sick day comments outrage

Alasdair Thompson, head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.
Alasdair Thompson, head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

The head of the Employers & Manufacturers' Association has publicly apologised over comments he made on radio this morning about women's menstruation and its effect on workplace productivity.

Alasdair Thompson, the chief executive officer of the EMA (Northern) and a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council, said he was amazed with the enormous response he'd had via email since making the comment that women get paid less than men because they take sick days 'once a month'.

He was also astounded that his comments, which he acknowledged appeared sexist when taken out of context, had also seen him 'trending' at number two on Twitter today.

''I do apologise to anybody and all those people who have taken offence at what I've said,'' he told BusinessDay.

''There's been a lot of news media cutting and dicing and putting their own spin on this. People are picking that up and then getting upset with it and I don't blame them.''

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson described Thompson's comments as a ''brain explosion''

"If that was the case there would be many of us entitled to about 12 years sick pay," she told Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee.

"I don't give any credence to that comment whatsoever. It is outrageous."

Employment and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the comments were "archaic".

"And coming from someone that's a little bit behind the times. He sounded a bit like a dinosaur to me."

Asked if the Government should keep working with Thompson, Bennett said it wasn't her comment to make.

"But I must admit I didn't think it was that impressive."

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) called for Thompson to resign but he's refusing to do so.

''When I take the interview in its entirety this morning, I don't think that it was wrong - we are a grown up country, we're debating issues and not hiding, not just saying (to me) you're a dinosaur, you're not PC, you're in the last century, in the dark ages...the response has been to attack me but a lot of it's been screwed around to not put in context.

''There's a lot of really glad people out there amongst the socialists and the Greens and so on and (CTU president) Helen Kelly who are very, very pleased to have an opportunity to make a lot of hay of it and they're spinning it for all it's worth.

''I understand that - whether the wider public understand that time will tell.''

Thompson and the CTU's Kelly faced each other on Mike Hosking's talkback show this morning on a Green Party Bill which will let women have access to information about pay rates in their workplace to test if there is gender-based discrimination.

Kelly maintained it was ''proven'' that there were pay gaps based on gender only right across the workforce. She said if there were two accountants in a firm with the same qualifications, often the man would be paid more.

He interjected: ''Statistics don't tell the whole truth - they don't explain why this happens.

''The fact is women have babies, they take time out with their careers, have babies - look, I don't like saying this...this is how contentious this is.''

Thompson said if statistics had to be relied upon, those that showed who took the most sick leave should be looked at.

''Why do they take the most sick leave? Women do in general. Why? Because once a month they have sick problems, not all of them but some do,'' he said.

''They have children that they have to take leave of therefore their productivity...(it's) not their fault. It may be that they have not got it sorted with their partners where the partners take more responsibility for what happens outside work.''

He said there were ''a lot of these issues'', none of which would be covered sufficiently in workplace pay stats.

Thompson said in a statement later that the EMA backs and promotes equal pay for equal productivity.


People on the streets of Auckland spoken to by Stuff have rubbished the comments.

Sarah Charteris said the idea that women have to take time off each month was unfair.

"The whole thing about once a month, I think that's quite dramatic I don't believe that at all. I don't think that's fair. There's a lot of women out there who have been the backbone of society."

Debbie Bryant rubbished the comments and in her experience said men take just as much sick leave as women.

"I think that's rubbish. I know over the years I've probably taken less sick leave. Men have to take days off as well. I employ a driver and I know that he has to take off just as many days as his wife to look after their child."

Helena Kaur agreed and said if employers are willing to take on both men and women to do the same job, then pay rates should be equal.

"If we have work to be done we don't just pull a sick leave for no reason. We pretty much do the same job men do. If [employers] are open to taking both [men and women] why should women get paid any less than men?"

It was not only women who were outraged by Thompson's remarks. Glenn Roper called the comments "ridiculous" and "sexist".

"I don't think that's fair at all. I think if you're doing a job and you're doing it the same as everyone else you deserve to get equal pay. It's quite ridiculous, quite sexist and doesn't make a lot of sense to me at all."

"Pay rates should be the same for everyone doing the same job. Sick leave is a different issue really to the pay rates", said John McLean, who thought sick leave was up to the individual employer and a completely separate issue to pay equality.