Equal pay bill due for first reading amid claims it worsens outlook for women

Kristine Bartlett led the campaign for equal pay for care workers.
NICOLE JOHNSTONE/FAIRFAX NZ

Kristine Bartlett led the campaign for equal pay for care workers.

A bill that is touted as a step towards equal pay for women may have the reverse effect, it has been claimed.

The Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill repeals the Equal Pay Act and the Government Service Equal Pay Act, and amends the Employment Relations Act.

It will have its first reading in Parliament on Tuesday.

Employment Minister Michael Woodhouse said it implemented the recommendations made by the Joint Working Group on Equal Pay Principles, and aimed to address one of the barriers to pay equity.

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It's not legal to pay women less but a gender gap persists.
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It's not legal to pay women less but a gender gap persists.

"The bill provides a practical and fair process for employees to follow if they feel they are not being paid what their job is worth."

It follows the pay equity case taken by Lower Hutt aged care worker Kristine Bartlett, which ended with a $2 billion Government settlement for care and support workers.

But Green MP Jan Logie, whose unsuccessful members' bill would have required businesses to reveal their gender pay gap to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the bill would make it harder for other groups to bring claims in future.

"It really makes it a lot more difficult for women to get fair pay for their work."

The average pay gap between men and women across all ethnicities was about 14 per cent, she said. It is worse for Maori and Pacific women.

"If you put that over a year or a lifetime, the difference in women's ability to participate in society, put a roof over their heads or feed themselves and their kids is really profound."

She said the bill would make women establish the merit of their case before they could take a pay equity claim.

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But only when a dispute arose could they seek help from a mediation service or the Employment Relations Authority.

It introduces a new system for determining against whose salaries it is fair to compare pay. People trying to make a claim must first look at others employed by their employer. If they can find no appropriate comparison, they can look to others within the same industry.

It is only if there is no one to compare to there that they can look at other industries.

That would stop the NZEI claim that early childhood education support workers' pay should be on par with correction officers.

It also removes the ability to ask for backpay, and will be applied retrospectively to existing claims.

Association professor Alex Sims, head of the commercial law department at the University of Auckland, said the lost ability to compare with other industries was a key problem.

"This is in direct contrast to the Court of Appeal's decision in Bartlett versus Terranova where the court was clear that comparators did not need to be confined to the employer and sector of the employees bringing the claim."

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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