Earlier this week I was so pleased to see the payoff for many amazing women involved in union organising with the decision to pay caregivers more. I put aside my reservations about the fact that it didn’t look as if it was exactly equal pay for work of equal value and that the Government was phasing it in without any back pay. I noted that this wasn’t actually morally justifiable but I was so pleased. It’s not often we get to celebrate a success for low paid people in Aotearoa.
I was pleased that Bill English at least acknowledged that the settlement was because they didn’t want pay rates being set by the courts. To me, this was an indication of the success of the strategy. They didn’t do this willingly – they were afraid the courts would decide on a bigger pay increase. I decided to process the Government’s comments that the decision didn’t set a precedent later because it’s important sometimes to celebrate victories.
Then, last night the Government released new draft legislation that will roll back the recent progress on pay equity. The draft bill scraps the 1972 Equal Pay Act which is a breach of faith with the unions who negotiated the pay equity principles on the understanding they were to work with the Equal Pay Act.
It also overturns the court ruling in the Terranova case that said Kristine Bartlett could look outside of the care industry to try and work out whether she was being underpaid. Terranova had tried to say she wasn’t being underpaid because a male gardener in their employee was also on low pay. The court acknowledged that it was necessary to allow comparisons with employees in other industries when suitable comparisons within the industry could not be found.
The Government is now trying to overturn this decision. This will make it very very difficult for women in the future to get equal pay for work of equal value. The bill also clearly states that even if overcoming all these barriers a woman successfully makes a claim for work of equal value she will not be entitled to back pay.
New Zealand has signed agreements committing to equal pay and equal pay for work of equal value but this shows they’re only interested in reducing their own financial liabilities, no matter the cost to these women, their families and our society as a whole. The Government’s game is now clear and it is what we worried about.
The union had the wisdom to take this case to court and they have worked really hard work to hold the line and not compromising the whole way. Now we need to back them up and make sure the Government doesn’t overturn their gains for other women. But it is still possible to make this a win for all those women in unions who have been campaigning for equal pay in this country since the 1800s. Let’s make sure the Government’s attempts to outplay us fails. Let’s let them know that WE expect women to be paid what they’re worth. We’re over the inequality.