100 years on, still waiting for equal pay

This column falls into the category of "I can't believe we are still talking about this stuff".

Green MP Jan Logie's Private Member's Equal Pay Amendment Bill is due before Parliament today.

New Zealand women are paid on average 12 per cent less an hour than men. Most of this difference can't be explained away by arguments such as education or time out of the workforce bringing up children.

Women are getting paid less because they are women. And it's not getting any better.

There has been no progress on closing the gap in recent years. Equal pay for jobs that are of equal skill, responsibility and stress should not be controversial. But this Bill doesn't go that far; it will simply require employers to add gender as a payroll reporting requirement and allow staff to request access to this information at an aggregated level.

This is hardly revolutionary. Norway, Sweden and Finland have had income transparency in place for some time. And in Britain, from next year, businesses with over 250 employees must disclose what they are paying in salaries to their male and female staff. Ahead of the new law some companies in Britain are already releasing this data. As recently reported by Bloomberg, some of the companies who have done this, such as Virgin Money and SSE, have found in uncovering the gender pay discrepancies a commitment to do something about it.

Here in New Zealand, the public sector has demonstrated leadership with the State Services Commission publishing the gender pay gap data of Government departments, and the sky hasn't fallen in.

This Bill would mean the private sector would be required to have greater pay transparency as well. There has been too much secrecy in the workplace for women to find out if they are being paid less for doing the same job in the same workplace. What gets measured gets attention.

The difficulties faced by women are at all ends of the income range. Data released recently showed 87 per cent of NZX company directors are male. Just 13 per cent are female. And that ratio has widened in the past year.

The gender pay gap is an old issue which is long overdue for a solution. Indeed, after Kate Sheppard and her colleagues secured votes for women in 1893 following a 14 year campaign they identified their next two highest priorities as: pushing for the right of women to become MPs; and equal pay for work of equal value.

It took more than a further 25 years, until 1919, to achieve the first goal and, 100 years on from then, women are still waiting for the second. This Bill is the lightest legislative touch possible that would make a meaningful difference.

And in the meantime we have come to take for granted the other things those earlier feminists campaigned for: the economic independence of married women; men and women both being able to get custody of children upon divorce; a wider range of occupations and professions being open to women.

But still we accept pay inequity.

Come on Parliament, and Government in particular, you did the right the thing with care workers in the low-paid, women-dominated industries. Do the right thing here.

 - The Dominion Post 10 May 2017