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Speech to graduate women

Rebecca Matthews, speech to Federation of University Graduate Women, Wellington branch, March 16 2010.

Thank you for the invitation to participate in this tonight’s discussion.

It’s both good and bad to be here tonight.  It’s good to be part of such an interesting panel with an interesting audience.

But it is a major disappointment that we are here, yet again, having to discuss, debate and identify the way forward to eliminate gender pay discrimination.

I don’t understand why, or accept, that women should have to wait in order to be paid fairly for our work.

The time to act on this issue is long overdue.

Why should women have to wait for pay equality when men don’t have to for their current pay advantage? They need to only need to wait 6 months after graduating to earn more than us.

I want to focus on two key issues tonight. The first is the need for urgent action now. The second is to examine the tactics that have been successful at closing the gender pay gap and how we can do more of what works to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters are not having the exact same conversation we’re having tonight.

I’m here representing the pay and employment equity challenge Coalition. We are a coalition of unions, women’s groups and community groups who have got together to campaign to close the gender pay gap, for graduates and for all women workers.

We have a series of goals about educating the public and raising the profile of this issue, but our primary goal is the big one: achieve equal value and recognition of women’s work. We established the coalition in June last year following the closure of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit in the department of labour.

Though I am a university graduate I’m also here today as a trade unionist. I want to work with others to do whatever will be most effective to getting to that goal of fair pay for women.

And in a way, while it is still important to educate the public and talk about the problem, I am getting pretty sick of hearing analysis of the causes of the gender pay gap – and probably not as sick of this as many women who have been campaigning on this issue a lot longer than I have!

I started to engage on pay equity issues as Women’s Rights Officer of the Auckland University Students’ Association in 1993.

And, seventeen years later it seems to me, very little has changed.

We have won some important work rights for women since then –paid parental leave, the right to request flexible working hours, and breaks and facilities for breastfeeding.

But the gender pay gap is still significant, and there still seems to be little enthusiasm at the moment from government or employers to be doing anything about it.

The closure of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit in The Department of Labour, which was starting to show some good results in achieving fairer workplace practices in the public sector, is a very overt signal of the lack of intention and enthusiasm to close the gender pay gap.

I am dismayed by the ongoing focus on research of the problem.

The latest MWA numbers are important, but they should be a spur for action, not for further reflection.

It seems to me that there are too many people, and particularly in this government, who use further research and analysis as a shield to hide behind, because they actually don’t view the gender pay gap as a problem and don’t want to commit to doing anything about it..

So who and how are we going to deliver on that goal of fair recognition for women’s work.

So far, it is really only through womens groups and unions organising and campaigning that change has come about.
There are virtually no examples of employers voluntarily and willingly improving pay and employment equity.

And where there are examples they tend to be in individual workplaces, so the changes have little effect on an industry or the workforce as a whole and when women leave those workplaces they will be subject to the inequality of the rest of the job market again.

And there are also scant examples of politicians making long-lasting meaningful change to the law that allows for pay and employment discrimination against women.

So far in New Zealand most of the work around making pay fairer for women has been because women’s groups, and trade unions, particularly women in unions have fought long and hard for it. This is a hard process.

For unionists, it requires high levels of union density, commitment of resources our unions often lack, and years of single-minded campaigning to achieve our goals.

We have had our successes and they have been spectacular. In particular, I think of the pay settlement the New Zealand Nurses Organisation achieved as a result of their stunning campaign under the leadership of Laila Harre.
In the private sector, we lack even the most basic information to know whether we are even accessing our current legal right to Equal Pay.

In the private sector  the situation is grim. Without equivalent legislation to the State Sector Act we don’t even have access to basic tools like the ability to OIA information about gender pay gaps. We rely on the cooperation of uncooperative employers. It is a legal framework that acts against women and dooms our campaign to failure.

The union I work for, Finsec, the finance sector union – is dealing with some of the biggest and richest employers in the country but we have  probably the largest gender pay gap.

In Australia, finance and insurance is the most unequal industry with a gender pay gap of 31.9%.

The limited numbers we have seen from New Zealand banks show men at a pre-management level being paid on average way above the pay scales.

I believe the banking industry may have an equal pay as well as a pay equity problem, founded on those two old chestnuts of lower starting salaries and lack of promotion paths for women staff.

However we are currently reliant on the banks providing us on a voluntary basis with accurate information about gender pay. One suggestion I bring tonight is that all private sector employers should be required to make public information about gender pay in their workforce, much the same as can occur in the public sector.  only 21

It is not right to pay women less than men for work of equal value and it should not be legal to do so either.

We need urgent legislative and political change to close the gender pay gap.

So what are some of the solutions I am saying we so urgently need to focus on?

A Legislative framework is required to achieve pay equity  Employers should be required to report their gender pay statistics and there should be sanctions if they are found to discriminate on the basis of gender.

The Equal Pay act is meaningless if its not enforceable and outcomes are not transparent. It should not be up to individual workers or unions to face the battle and costs of taking it up legally.

There should be Accessible tools to support employers and workers to achieve pay and employment equity.
With only 21% of the workforce unionised in this country,  we need to increase our levels of collective bargaining and unionisation .

High levels of inequality are correlated with low levels of collective bargaining and unionisation.

The minimum wage should be immediately increased to $15 an hour to lift the many thousands of women at the bottom of the pay tail.

And the ability for unions to bargain at an industry level must be increased. Strong unions, full of women, will be a critical counter to the current employer and political commitment to retaining the discriminatory status quo.

As American suffragette Susan B. Anthony once said “Join the union, girls, and together say Equal Pay for Equal Work”.

Thank you

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