by Daphna Whitmore

Although women got the vote in the late 19th century, now well into the 21st century we still do not have pay equity. While overt discrimination against individual female employees is no longer legal or socially accepted  in New Zealand women’s wages still lag by 12 percent.

Far from leading change, parliament is often the last to come to the party when social movements gather momentum.  The successful case of  caregiver Kristine Bartlett shows gender pay inequity is coming under pressure. After being paid only $14.46 an hour despite 20 years working at the same rest home, Bartlett’s case established a legal principle that paying women in predominantly female occupations less than men in occupations with similar skills and responsibilities may be illegal under the Equal Pay Act of 1972.

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The gender pay gap under Labour and National has barely budged

Following the Bartlett case National has introduced the Pay Equity Bill which would impose a number of new hurdles for women seeking pay parity. The bill is being opposed by all the parliamentary opposition and the Maori Party. Jacinda Ardern has said Labour will not rest until there is pay equity.  What Labour would do to make pay equity real remains vague. Labour is only promising to support the claims of mental health workers to get pay parity. Beyond that they do not say what they would replace National’s bill with.

New Zealand capitalism is ready, albeit reluctantly, for the gender gap to start closing. What capitalism is not ready for is an end to poverty wages.

Ardern, speaking at a Pay Equity rally, said a living wage was an aspiration of Labour’s. Note: it’s not something that they would legislate for or enable through lifting restrictions on workers organising. The last Labour government had three terms and many years of budget surpluses but little was done for working class women. Paid parental leave was one measure, but it was the Alliance, not Labour, that drove that, in the face of opposition from Helen Clark.

There was also the introduction of twenty hours free childcare but that in large part was a recognition that employers needed women in the workforce.  Similarly, the Working for Families tax credits took the pressure off employers to lift wages.

Most revealing is that under nine years of Labour beneficiaries saw no reversal of National’s extreme benefit cuts of 1991.  Sure, women made it to top leadership positions such as Governor General and Chief Justice, but there was little progress for the majority of women and those in low-wage jobs, like Kristine Bartlett.

It is not likely to be different under Labour today. While a living wage is estimated to be $20.20 an hour Labour will only lift the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour. It is currently $15.75 and would likely go up under National to $16.25. That illustrates the magnitude of difference between National and Labour.

Clark was a politician who figured  that if she didn’t promise much and kept expectations low she would not cop much flak. Ardern probably gets this.

Aspirational is code for in the never-never.

  1. Phil says:

    If you look at the fifth Labour government and the current National government, the point at which the gender pay gap is narrowest is under National in 2012. The gender pay gap looks a bit bigger under Labour than the current National Party government up to 2015.

    But I bet if you asked the pro-Labour left whether the pay gap was greater under the 5th Labour government or the fifth National government, they’d all say “Under National”.

    So much of the left in this country aren’t concerned with facts. They just want to keep their illusions in one of the two main capitalist parties – ie Labour – and pretend that putting this awful outfit back in government would represent some kind of “victory”.

    How desperately we need a new, politically harder left – an anti-capitalist left rather than a soft/mushy anti-National Party left.

  2. […] Aspirational fluff from Ardern  August 14, 2017 […]

  3. Susanne K says:

    And even though it has gone down up, down and then up again under National, the latest up is still lower than it was any year under Labour!