Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value: Making Human Rights and Employment Rights Laws Work Together

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Abstract

This paper backgrounds the policy issues concerning equal pay for work of equal value and offers some thoughts on how human rights and employment rights could work together to ensure pay equity. Renewed interest in pay equity in New Zealand has links to international agendas in that New Zealand has ratified conventions on employment equity for women that are viewed as fundamental rights by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations. Nevertheless, New Zealand has come under criticism for lack of compliance on "equal pay for work of equal value". This paper addresses the question of how an effective policy for equal pay for work of equal value could be delivered under our current legislative frameworks.

INTRODUCTION

Our goal is to build an innovative economy. That means making the most of all our skills and talents ... The decisions of our daughters and grand-daughters should not be constrained by out-moded ideas about what women and the work we do are worth. (Laila Harre, Minister of Women's Affairs, July 2002)

Pay equity is once again on the agenda of government after 12 years tucked at the back of party policies. A discussion document Next Steps Towards Pay Equity was released in July 2002 (Ministry of Women's Affairs 2002a). In October 2002 an additional Human Rights Commissioner was appointed with responsibility for equal employment opportunities, including pay equity. In May 2003, a Taskforce was appointed to develop an action plan on pay and employment equity in the Public Service and education and health sectors.

This renewed interest in pay equity has links to international agendas. As an active participant in the international community, New Zealand has ratified conventions on employment equity for women that are viewed as fundamental rights by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations. New Zealand legislation prohibits gender discrimination in employment and requires equal pay for women and men employed for the same job. Equal employment opportunities are required by law in the public sector and promoted in the private sector.

In recent years, however, New Zealand has come under criticism for lack of compliance on "equal pay for work of equal value". This principle addresses the fact that women and men tend to be employed in different occupations, with work typically done by women rewarded at a lower average rate than work typically done by men.

Equal pay for work of equal value and gender pay gaps were last addressed in 1990 by the short-lived Employment Equity Act, but there have been considerable changes in the employment relations system since then. Can an effective policy for equal pay for work of equal value be delivered under our current legislative frameworks? This paper backgrounds the policy issues and offers some thoughts on how human rights and employment rights could work together to ensure pay equity.

EXPLAINING GENDER PAY GAPS

The gap between women's and men's average hourly earnings has been monitored by Statistics New Zealand since the Equal Pay Act 1972 was passed. (1) By 1977 the removal of all separate male and female pay scales had narrowed the gender pay gap six percentage points (Wilson 1993). There has been just under 9 percentage points improvement in the 25 years since then.

The June 2003 Income Survey showed that women's average earnings per hour were 87.1% those of men (Statistics New Zealand 2003). Annual figures since 1997 show a gender and ethnicity earnings gap. Pakeha women earned on average 85.3% of Pakeha men's earnings in 2002. Maori women earned 89.2% of Maori men's average earnings, 85.7% of Pakeha women's and 73.1% of Pakeha men's. Pacific women earned 99.2% of Pacific men's average earnings, 81.3% of Pakeha women's and 69.4% of Pakeha men's.

A Department of Labour study (Dixon 2000) has identified four contributory factors to the gender pay gap:

* the presence of dependent children in household (responsible for approximately 10% of the gap)

* differences in level of educational attainment (0-10%)

* differences in the number of years in the workforce (15-50%)

* occupational segregation between women and men (20-40%). …