The pay gap is the worst it has been in almost a decade – last year, men earned almost $15,000 more on average than women, writes Amelia Wade . The Herald analysed the median wage for a 40-hour week for men and women working in different sectors, using figures from Statistics New Zealand’s quarterly employment survey. We have used the median, because it is a better measure of ‘typical’ pay than average, hourly earnings, and the 25 to 64-year-old age bracket to eliminate early and late career earnings, which are often lower than normal.
How much less do women earn than men? It varies between industries, but across all sectors women earn 14.3 per cent less than men and last year it got worse. Women’s median hourly wages were 89.4 per cent of men’s hourly wages in 2014, but that dropped to 85.7 per cent last year. The last time the gap was this big was in 2006 when it was 85 per cent.
The difference is largest in community and personal services jobs, where women last year earned $7.16 less than men per hour, followed by professionals, where the gap was $6.77.
The smallest discrepancy was among labourers. Male labourers earned just under $3 an hour more than female. The statistics show the gender pay gap closed most in the years immediately after the Equal Pay Act of 1972, and in periods of economic growth in the late 1980s as well as 1997-2009. The pay gap stalled during tougher times in 1977-84 and 1990-96, as well as since 2009.
“The gender pay gap has been a systemic and enduring inequality for women and is a fundamental breach of human rights,” the Human Rights Commission said in a 2011 report on equality in New Zealand.
It is also an economic issue – Goldman Sachs estimated that closing the gender gap would boost the female employment rate, raising New Zealand’s GDP by 10 per cent.
Why do women earn less?
There are two fronts on which the battle is being fought: the same pay for the same job and equal pay for equal but different work.
Research conducted by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs found graduates entering the workforce were paid similar salaries, but the pay gap increased because women were overlooked for top-paying roles. They were considered likely to take time out of their careers to care for children, were less likely to negotiate and were discriminated against despite legislation.
Minister for Women Louise Upston said an unconscious bias in the way we see and evaluate women and men created invisible barriers for women to enter and progress in their chosen field. Highlighting and educating people about stereotyping was key to addressing barriers that limit women’s potential, she said.
“Until women have equal rights, equal choice, equal opportunities, equal expectations, and are valued equally, there is more work to be done.”
Another factor is almost half the women workers in New Zealand are in occupations that are more than 80 per cent female, and female-dominated occupations are lower paid, according to 2009 research by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
What’s being done to close the gap?
One of the problems is many women workers are concentrated in lower-paid jobs, such as caregiving. This factor drove Kristine Bartlett to sue her employer TerraNova Homes and Care and prove female-dominated care work is undervalued and underpaid. She argued that, if the sector was dominated by men, male and female workers would be paid more. The case was launched with the support of the E Tu union, formerly the Service & Food Workers Union, in the Employment Court. They won.
The decision was appealed by TerraNova but in December 2014, Ms Bartlett won the case at the Supreme Court and any further appeals were declined. The courts determined that to establish equal pay for workers in the female-dominated aged care industry, their pay must be equal to workers in a similar male-dominated industry. The decision has opened the door for workers to take legal action for pay equity.
In September, the New Zealand College of Midwives filed the country’s biggest equal pay challenge at the High Court in Wellington, claiming the set fees paid by the Ministry of Health breach gender rules under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It argued that midwives earned significantly less than male-dominated professions that require similar skills and responsibility.
And the country’s largest education union, the New Zealand Education Institute, has backed a claim from three female support workers. They are seeking equal pay for their profession, which is managed by the Ministry of Education. In 2008, a study found there were around 600 support workers whose jobs were roughly equivalent to prison officers in skills, responsibilities and emotional and physical demands. Yet the support workers’ top hourly pay was only $19.29 compared with $32.07 for a senior corrections officer.
Last October, the Government established the Joint Working Group to develop a set of principles for dealing with claims under the Equal Pay Act. The working group will give ministers recommendations on how to achieve pay equity consistent with New Zealand’s employment relations framework and a well-functioning labour market.
All unions have agreed to put their legal action on hold until the end of March when the group will present its principles.
What are the expectations for the working group?
It is hoped that the group will determine which sectors dominated by men or women are comparable in skill, responsibility and commitment.
John Ryall, National Secretary of the E Tu union, was hopeful the working group and its wider players would reach an agreement for the negotiation of the rate of remuneration for care and support workers.
E Tu has 50,000 members from a range of industries, including engineering, community support, mining and manufacturing.
Mr Ryall believes if the cases cannot be settled, the courts will decide on the principles for negotiating equal pay claims and a rate of remuneration for care and support workers.
“When the courts talk about systemic historic gender discrimination they are not taking this issue lightly, just as historically they have not taken slavery or forced labour or racial discrimination lightly,” Mr Ryall said.
Eileen Brown of the Pay Equity Challenge Coalition said the single most effective measure to reduce the gender pay gap was increasing the pay of women in low-paid occupational segregated work, such as the care sector.
“There are tens of thousands of women in low-paid caring work, being paid pathetically and on insulting low wages for the valued work they do. And this is not unskilled work.”
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has a goal of economic independence for women, but no plans on how to reduce the gender pay gap, Ms Brown said.
“Inequality in pay is completely unacceptable in 2016. It is outdated, antiquated and unacceptable and when people stop and think about it, why is their daughter getting paid 15 to 20 per cent less than her brother for a job that has similar skills, qualification and responsibilities? It is a no brainer.”
What else is being done?
Global Women is the secretariat for the recently launched Champions for Change, a group of New Zealand chief executives and chairs from across public and private sectors committed to ensuring diversity in the workplace. Spokeswoman Bridget Dawson said the pay gap figures showed a lack of awareness of women’s earning potential. The University of Auckland is also conducting a large study on inequality in New Zealand. More than 15,000 women aged between 18 and 90 are taking part in the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a 20-year longitudinal national probability study of social attitudes, personality and health outcomes conducted by the School of Psychology.
Using this data, the students will examine how pay differences between men and women, by occupation, have changed over six years. The analyses will reveal whether the pay gap is getting larger and if differences exist in the size of the gap across industries.
Source New Zealand Herald