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Pay Equity for women – what can we do now?

Pay Equity for women – what can we do now?


Celia Briar


There is a widespread but incorrect view that New Zealand performs well on equal pay for women, and that women’s equality in their pay packets is well protected by law. It is true that legislation covering gender equity at work includes the Equal Pay Act of 1972, the State Sector Act, 1986 and the Human Rights Act 1993, including its amendments in 2000. New Zealand has also signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which includes an obligation to provide women with equal pay for work of equal value.

Despite the laws and conventions in place, progress towards equal pay for women has been slow and at times has stalled. Department of Statistics data shows that in June 2009 the women’s average weekly wages and salaries were $354 while men’s were $562: a gender gap of 37.1%.  That very same month the government disestablished the Pay and Employment Equity Unit!

The current political environment is a particularly inhospitable one for promoting equality at work. This does not mean we should give up. The Plan of Action for Women (2004-9) generated information, resources and tools about gender equity at work that we can still use. This paper describes those tools and explains how they can be obtained.


Background – from legislation to reviews

New Zealand women came closest to having pay equity (equal pay for work of equal value) two decades ago, in 1990, when legislation was passed allow to for pay adjustments for female-dominated occupations that were underpaid compared with male-dominated occupations where the work was of similar value. It was predicted at the time by Margaret Wilson that this would halve the gender pay gap[1]. However, later the same year this important legislation was repealed by the incoming National government. There had not been time for even one class action to be brought.

For the next twelve years –  four political terms – [2] the gender pay gap was off the political agenda. Then the Labour-led government that took office of 2002 reintroduced pay equity but took a different approach. Instead of legislation the Plan of Action for Women set up a system of pay and employment equity reviews to determine and address the specific causes of gender inequities in each reviewing organisation.

The Plan of Action for Women


The Plan of Action for Women set up a Pay and Employment Equity Unit (PEEU) in 2004. The PEEU was located in the Department of Labour. It oversaw a series of pay and employment equity reviews[3]. These were compulsory in the core public service but not elsewhere. The PEEU also had a mandate to instigate pay investigations for female-dominated groups where it was thought likely that these groups were underpaid compared with male-dominated groups doing work of similar value. In practice, more than 70 pay and employment equity reviews took place, between 2004 and 2009, and two pay investigations were set up[4].

The pay and employment equity reviews began with the core public service, public health and education; then the Crown research Institutes (CRIs). Local government had begun to take part in reviews.  The logical sequel would have been extending the review process to the private and not-for-profit sectors of the economy, if the Plan of Action had been allowed to continue.

Under the prescribed process for undertaking pay and employment equity reviews, reviewing organisations undertook reviews to check for inequities in pay, opportunities to participate at all levels and be treated with fairness and respect. Each organisation set up a tripartite committee (staff, managers and unions) to conduct the review. Once inequities and their causes were identified, their next step was to create a response plan to address the inequities.

A contestable fund was set up, with a million dollars a year allocated to assist organisations with the costs of conducting reviews However, there was no government funding allocated for the costs of addressing the gender pay inequities that were uncovered in the reviews.

How effective was the Plan of Action for Women?


Conducting reviews organisation by organisation was a relatively slow and cumbersome process. It did not produce rapid results. However, the Plan of Action for Women did have some positive effects:

  • Prior to the pay and employment equity reviews, most employers were unaware that they even had gender inequities. The reviews provided hard evidence of the type and size of inequities that existed and so raised awareness amongst employers.
  • The tripartite process of the PaEE reviews also raised awareness of gender issues amongst employees and unions.
  • PaEE was found to be good for employment relations, as representatives of employees, management and unions were obliged to work together on identifying gender issues and finding solutions.
  • Not all the issues uncovered were costly to address, but made a significant improvement to workplace cultures. Addressing bullying and harassment, and providing fairer access to training and development opportunities were seen as having a positive effect on staff morale.
  • Some issues affecting both women and men were identified and addressed. A common issue was lack of transparency about links between performance, pay and progression. Many men as well as women welcomed clarification of these issues when this was achieved.

What we found out from the pay and employment equity reviews

As a result of the reviews, we know a lot more about the nature of gender inequities in the New Zealand public sector. For example, the pay and employment equity reviews in the core public service found gender pay gaps that ranged from 3% to 35%.  There were three major components of the gender pay gaps: unequal pay for the same work, unequal pay for work of equal value, and fewer opportunities for women to progress to higher salary ranges.

  • Of the 38 core public service departments, 21 reported that women and men do not receive equal pay for the same work[5]. A number of reviews specifically found gender gap in starting salaries for the same jobs. Gender pay gaps were wider at management levels. Gender gaps in starting salaries were larger in the older age ranges. Once women had started on lower salaries than male colleagues the gender gap tended to widen over time.
  • People working in female-dominated occupations such as administrative support work, call centres and educational support earn significantly less than people working in male-dominated or mixed gender occupations
  • Women are seriously under-represented in senior management positions. Some female-dominated jobs were found to lack progression opportunities compared with male-dominated jobs.
  • Many reviews also found that part-time staff (in practice mainly women) were excluded from opportunities for development and progression.
  • Job flexibility for staff with caring responsibilities mainly took the form of part-time work, which inevitably meant loss of income. Only two government agencies were family-friendly enough that no staff with caring responsibilities needed to work part time.

Because there was no pot of money allocated by the government to help employers meet the costs of addressing gender pay gaps, some organisations (including some with very large gender pay gaps) tended to shy away from acknowledging the size of the problem and creating a realistic plan for tackling the causes of pay inequities.

Nevertheless, some government departments did a good job in addressing issues, once reviews revealed that they existed. Some gave their lowest-paid staff a pay rise. Some put career steps into clerical work. Some became aware of women’s potential to do senior management work, and promoted more women.

The net result was a small reduction in the gender pay gap in the public service, and a small percentage increase in the proportion of senior management that were women between 2004 and 2009. However, this progress did not last.

What has happened since 2008?

Since late 2008, when the current National government took office, it has demonstrated its approach to pay equity for women by:

  • disbanding the Pay and Employment Equity Unit (PEEU) in June 2009,
  • cancelling the partially-completed pay investigation for the social workers, and
  • ignoring the findings of the already completed pay investigation for the educational support workers. The investigation had found that this female-dominated group were significantly underpaid, compared with male-dominated groups whose work required similar amounts of skill, effort and responsibility.

What resources and information do we have now on pay equity?


The Plan of Action for Women has left a legacy, which we must not allow be wasted. This Plan of Action built a large body of tools, resources and information. And nearly all of these are available free to you. They consist of:

1. A pay and employment equity toolkit from the Department of Labour

This is available free of charge from the Department of Labour. Go to their web site at http://www.dol.govt.nz/services/PayAndEmploymentEquity/standard.asp and request the free CD-rom toolkit, which will be posted to you. It contains:

  • Tools, templates and guidelines on how to do a pay and employment equity review in your organisation
  • The Equitable Job Evaluation tool (EJE) – this helps your organisation determine whether female-dominated occupations are being fairly paid[6]
  • The Spotlight tool – helps job holders and managers more accurately describe and measure the skills used in ‘people’ work’. It is helpful for a range of uses, including clarifying job descriptions, recruitment and selection, salary-setting and performance management. Also look out for Spotlight Online – coming soon!
  • Overview reports of the findings of the public sector pay and employment equity reviews
  • Case studies of individual reviews

2. The HRC’s pay and employment equity self-assessment and monitoring tool

In 2009 the Human Rights Commission commissioned a tool for employers to self- assess whether they have gender pay issues. This tool is now available free on their web site, http://www.neon.org.nz/payequitymonitoringtool/

3. A legal opinion on employers’ responsibilities regarding pay equity

The majority of pay and employment equity reviews were completed in 2008-9. So the process of implementing response plans had barely begun at the time when the change of government occurred.

There is a perception that since the government has changed there is no need to implement the response plans. However, this appears to be incorrect. A legal opinion was sought by the Human Rights Commission in 2009, which stated that employers were under a legal obligation to address gender inequities they had discovered. This legal opinion can bee downloaded from: http://www.neon.org.nz/payequitymonitoringtool/.

4. The Gender-Inclusive Job Evaluation Standard (GIGE)

The Gender-Inclusive Job Evaluation Standard (GIGE) is designed to assess whether they current job-sizing methods used in your workplace complies with gender-inclusive standards. It is not available free. It can be obtained from Standards New Zealand. The Gender-inclusive Job Evaluation Standard (P8007/2006) provides information and recommendations on procedures to support and promote gender equity in job evaluation. The Standard has been formally approved by the Standards Council and can be purchased from Standards New Zealand.

The Department of Labour has produced A Guide to the Gender-inclusive Job Evaluation Standard, which sets out how the Standard can be met, and Dorfox Meets the Standard: A Case Study which provides an example of documentation of meeting the requirements of the Gender-inclusive Job Evaluation Standard. See http://www.dol.govt.nz/services/PayAndEmploymentEquity/standard.asp

What you can do with this information


Whether or not your organisation has already done a pay and employment equity review [7] you can use the tools and templates that are freely available to identify the exact nature of the inequities, as well as the free resources to help respond to the inequities that are discovered.

If you work in an organisation where a pay and employment equity review has already taken place, you can:

  • Ask your union representative or organiser[8] to report to members on progress in addressing the review’s findings and implementing the response plan.
  • Ask the union to negotiate with your employer to monitor their progress towards gender equity, using the HRC self-assessment tool. They can be asked to share the findings with the union and its members
  • If implementation of review response plans is slow or you suspect little or no progress is being made on gender equity issues in your workplace, you can ask your union to remind the employer of their legal obligations to address the gender issues they have discovered.

For example, in a high proportion of pay and employment equity reviews it was agreed that the employer would check that the job sizes of the female-dominated occupations had been assessed in a gender-neutral manner. Many specifically stated they would use the Equitable Job Evaluation tool. However, in most cases this has not occurred. If your employer is in this category, the relevant union could be asked to remind them of their obligations.

If your workplace has not done a pay and employment equity review you can:

Ask your union to request that the organisation either:

  • Undertakes a pay and employment equity review, using the Department of Labour 4-step review templates and the PEEAT tool, [9] or
  • Uses the free HRC self-assessment tool as a relatively quick ‘health check’ to see whether there are gender issues that may need to be addressed.



Women have made huge gains in terms of education achievements, and women have become close to half the paid work force. And yet our pay still lags behind.  It’s especially clear at present that pay equity will not just be handed to women without a struggle.

As a result of the Plan of Action, we now have more information about the nature of gender inequities at work and a number of tools that have been tried and tested. We also have a clearer idea about employers’ legal obligations. Some unions, especially the Public Service Association, have learned a tremendous amount about gender equity issues at work as a result of their involvement in the pay and employment equity reviews and the two pay investigations.

Any progress women have made in the past towards pay equity, and any progress we will make in the future, comes from making good use of our networks and the information and resources we have available to us.

[1] The other half of the gender pay was said to have other causes, such as women having fewer opportunities to work in senior positions

[2] Three under National and National-led governments 1990-1999 and one under a Labour-led government, 1999-2002

[3] Initially there was a six-step process for conducting reviews and creating responses to the issues found. This was found to be relatively time-consuming and resource-intensive. Subsequently, in 2008, a 4-step review process was created, which is now available as part of the Department of Labour gender equity toolkit.

[4] The two pay investigations both got under way in 2008: one for education support workers and one for social workers.

[5] Not all departments reported whether or not there was equal pay for the same work, so the proportion could be even higher. Unequal pay for the same work is contrary to the 1972 Equal Pay Act. However, because starting salaries are negotiated individually and employees are often discouraged from discussing their salaries from others, people are often unaware that gender pay inequities are occurring.

[6] Although the tool is free, to use EJE you will need to sign a Terms of Use agreement with the Department of Labour, and engage a suitably-qualified trainer.

[7] Are you are unsure whether your employer has undertaken a pay and employment equity review? Here is a quick way you can find out:

  • If you work in the core public service or a Crown Research Institute your employer certainly has undertaken a review, and is legally obliged to address the issues found in it
  • If you work in public health or education your own institution may have done a review. There are sector-wide pay and employment equity review reports covering the issues found across the schools sector and the hospitals. Reviews have also taken place in some parts of the tertiary education sector
  • If you work in local government your employer has probably not undertaken a pay and employment equity review (only 2 local authorities have done so)
  • If you work in the private sector or not-for-profit sector you employer will definitely not have undertaken a pay and employment equity review at this. But there is nothing to prevent them doing so – talk to your union about becoming the first!

[8] It’s preferable to avoid individual action, if there is any risk of victimisation.

[9] These tools are available free, but there is no longer any financial help with the costs of doing a review such as hiring a project manager, and the PEEU no longer exists to provide expert backup advice or information.


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