Pay gaps mean a lot is missing from women's lives

Women's pay packets are still smaller than those of men.
Fairfax NZ

Women's pay packets are still smaller than those of men.

OPINION: 

Over her working life it's likely a woman will earn significantly less than a man, even if she does the same job. Each discrepancy might seem small at the time, but it all adds up. When looking at the numbers it's possible to see a stark gender pay gap. At every stage in a women's career and into retirement, no matter how you slice it, there's something missing from her pay.

Even though New Zealand has a high number of women graduating from tertiary education, the average income gap between men and women graduating with a bachelor's degree or above is around 6 per cent, After five  years the gap increases to around 17 per cent. 

Where there is a discretionary element associated with pay along with a lack of transparency, we see the gap widen and women are paid less than men. Since we don't talk about how much we earn we don't know the man at the next desk is earning more. Salary transparency is uncommon. It's only whispers and rumours that hint at this difference while the larger shape is mostly hidden from us.

New Zealand has high female labour market participation – a lot of women are in work. But where are they working and what are they earning?  Female-dominated occupations like hospitality, retail, administration and caring – even nursing and teaching – are paid at lower rates than male-dominated occupations with similar skills and qualification requirements.

Maori and Pasefika women are more likely to be in the lowest paying jobs, which increases the poverty in their lives and communities.

We're told this isn't about devaluing women's work, their mahi (work) just isn't worth much.

The State Services Commission  has put out its annual survey of the public service, and it shows the gender pay gap up to June 2014 was 14.1 per cent. Adjusted for occupation, age and seniority the gap is 5.3 per cent.

Even at the lower figure, that's a significant percentage of salary public service women lose over the years. Compounded with interest that's a lot of money missing from a woman's life. Because of this gap we've calculated that from May 11 to  June 30, public service women work for free for the government.

The overall gender pay gap in New Zealand has been closing since the late 1990s, but between 2010 and now it has fluctuated between 9 and 10 per cent. To close the gap fully we need the support of the government and structured steps that address this imbalance.

We are lucky to have universal superannuation, which is paid out to men and women at the same rate. 

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But we know the quality of life in later years is improved by having retirement savings as well as superannuation, and the gender pay gap affects this.

Men are more likely to have higher retirement savings because their lifetime earnings are higher. ANZ Bank looked at their Kiwisaver schemes and found on average women retire with $60,000 less savings than men ($144,000 for women vs $203,000 for men) and women are feeling less confident about being able to save for a comfortable retirement.

ANZ expects the Kiwisaver savings gap will continue to widen over time, noting 85 per cent of women typically take career breaks to raise a family. On average women can expect to live longer than men, so their smaller retirement savings must also stretch further.

We want to see this year's Budget address equal pay for women.

Women deserve equal pay for equal work and it's obvious this just isn't happening.

This isn't an issue that's going to take care of itself. It's something that needs to be addressed by government, as well as in board rooms, by senior managers, and through human resource practices and policies. It's time to right this wrong.

The PSA and other New Zealand unions will continue to champion this issue, because after all, it's only fair.

Erin Polaczuk is the PSA's  national secretary.

 - Stuff

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