A union says the new Pay Equity Bill will make it harder for women to gain fair pay, and is calling on Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett to make changes as Minister for Women.
NZEI Te Riu Roa said the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill introduced new stumbling blocks, which would severely limit workers’ ability to reduce the gender pay gap.
The bill was released for consultation last week, with submissions closing 11 May.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment said feedback is welcome on how workable the bill will be.
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NZEI national secretary Paul Goulter said, at the moment, women who worked in a female-dominated occupation could measure their pay against any perceivably male-dominated occupation, with a job evaluation ensuring the two jobs measure up in terms of skills, knowledge, experience and responsibilities.
This is what happened when Lower Hutt aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett won a landmark pay increase for the female-dominated industry earlier this month.
But the new bill said comparisons must be from within the business, similar businesses or the same industry first, if available and appropriate.
Goulter said this rule creates a number of barriers, as each stage might have to go to the Employment Relations Authority if unions and employers cannot agree on what is a fair comparison.
“There are all these hoops that we have to jump through before we get to where we can have a more general comparison,” he said.
Goulter gave the example of early childhood education support workers, who are mostly female. Their pay was compared to corrections officers, who are mostly male, and was found to be lacking.
The NZEI was now negotiating a pay equity claim for education support workers, and Goulter said a claim for teacher aides was just about ready.
“The comparison is about equal worth … there’s no reason and logic why you have to say that we have to confine that exercise to the enterprise.”
But the ministry’s Manager Employment Relations Policy Jivan Grewal said the rule is consistent with the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the Equal Pay Act.
A joint working group was unable to reach an agreement on whether to guide the use of comparisons, so Cabinet stepped in, he said.
“Cabinet strengthened the principles by making it clear that comparators should come from within the same business, similar businesses, or the same industry or sector when available and appropriate,” Grewal said.
“If no appropriate comparators exist, parties can agree to look at other industries or sectors.”
Feedback was welcomed, including on the workability of this provision, Grewal said.
MINISTER STAYS MUM
The North Shore Times approached Upper Harbour MP Paula Bennett for comment as Minister for Women, but was told she was away, and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse would be more appropriate to approach.
Woodhouse’s office said the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment should comment instead.
Goulter said it was disappointing Bennett would not comment.
“She’s prepared to take the kudos for the settlement of Bartlett but, when push comes to shove, the Government have gone back to form and tried to corral what we think are basic rights for female workers.”