EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue: Address to the Pay Equity Forum

EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue: Address to the Pay Equity Forum

April 16, 2015

E ngā mana, 

E ngā reo, 

E ngā waka

Tēnā koutou katoa

Pay equity

2015 marks the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform of Action to, signed by over 180 countries.  It was an ambitious action plan with the goal of advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment globally and is as still as relevant today as it was then.

2015 is the year when the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, which will take over from the Millennium Development Goals, will be agreed. Gender equality will become a stand-alone Goal in the SDGs.

The 2015 International Women’s Day theme is ‘Make it Happen.’  This is a direct call to action.

Essential to achieving gender equality is absolutely ensuring that the work done by women and men is valued fairly and end pay discrimination once and for all.

History of Pay Equity in New Zealand

It is interesting to look at the history of pay equity in New Zealand.

Pay equity has been advanced by successive governments from both sides of the House. The Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960 was passed under a Labour Government. Setting up the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women, the Commission of Enquiry into Equal Pay and the 1972 Equal Pay Act all happened under a National Government. 

Successive governments added other legislative and policy pillars – the Human Rights Act; the ratification of ILO 100, the equal remuneration convention under National and the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, EEO provisions in the state sector and further amendments to the Human Rights Act including establishing the role of EEO Commissioner under Labour. 

In 1990 the Employment Equity Act was passed but was repealed six months later when the government changed. 

More recently, under a Labour government the Pay and employment equity Taskforce was established which developed a five year plan of action; this included setting up the pay and employment equity unit in the Department of Labour. Government departments, the public health and education sector all undertook pay and employment equity reviews. The unit was disestablished in 2009 with the change of government and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs directed to do further research and policy work on gender pay and employment equity. 

At the same time unions made significant gains for female dominated occupation such as teaching and nursing. That brings us to present day. 

The policy of setting different rates for women and for men for the same or similar work has pretty much disappeared world-wide. But achieving equal pay for work of equal value has proved to be stubbornly elusive. Women are concentrated in a smaller and different range of occupation because of historical and stereotypical attitudes about the role of women and this concentration of women has meant a downward pressure on wages in those occupations, which discourages men from entering those jobs.  To quote the ILO,  this results in women’s average pay continuing  to be lower than men’s in all countries and for all levels of education, age groups and occupations. 

That is why in 2015 the spotlight is well and truly on Kristine Bartlett and the Equal Pay Case, which I am sure you are all very familiar with.

We must not fail this time.

Human Rights Commission, the legacy of Caring Counts and the Equal Pay Case

I am very proud of the Human Rights Commission involvement in the lead up to the Equal Pay Case.

In 2012 we published Caring Counts, the report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce

When this work started people outside the industry, including the Commission, did not appreciate the skills and demands we ask of care workers. 

The Commission came to the conclusion that the value we as a country place on older people is linked to the value we place on those who care for them. 

That is: not enough.

As well as reflecting the value placed on older people, the aged care workforce also reflects the value that is placed on women’s work –as this workforce is overwhelmingly female.   

I would like to acknowledge former EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor’s leadership of the Commission’s work on the inquiry. 

It was Judy’s decision to go undercover as a carer – which attracted media attention to the work of caring. It also sent a powerful signal of appreciation of the work of carers.

As a residential home carer in my University holidays, a former GP who looked after rest homes and as the daughter in law of an ageing and very sick  father in law, I know from personal experience how critical it is for the well being of older New Zealanders that aged care services are the best they can be and the women who work in them are properly valued.  

The Caring Counts Coalition was set up at the ‘Caring Counts Summit’, which followed the publication Caring Counts. 

The Coalition comprises peak bodies, providers, Age Concern and Grey Power, trade unions and the industry ITO.  Its purpose is to improve the population health outcomes for older people by working together to improve equity and fairness in the pay and working conditions of those caring for older people.

As such we are a unique tripartite of business, consumers and unions with the Human Rights Commission being a neutral body. The Coalition has been meeting regularly and collaboratively since it was established.

The Caring Counts report proposed ten recommendations many of which have been met or partially met. 

Recommendation #2 has not been meet and is a priority for the Coalition . This recommendation calls on the Ministry of Health to direct District Health Boards to develop a mechanism to achieve pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities. 

Of course achieving pay parity is a step towards pay equity which is at the heart of the ‘Equal Pay Case’. 

The Equal Pay Case’ case began in late 2012 when Kristine Bartlett lodged application with the Employment Relations Authority that she was not receiving equal pay as per Equal Pay Act 1972. The first hurdle was to establish that the Equal Pay Act encompassed equal pay for work of equal value. That was achieved. The next step is establishing the principles for determining equal value. That’s with the Employment Court. The substantive case will most likely be heard in the Employment Court next year. 

If successful, this case will have wide ranging impacts that will flow from the aged care workers to other female workers in other sectors.  As I understand it, the Unions are in the process of lodging or have lodged claims on behalf of other workers.

International treaties and pay equity 

A number of the international conventions and declarations are unequivocal on the issue of pay equality which includes pay equity. These are:

  • Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
  • CEDAW or Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Article 11 
  • ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration and ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation.

These are all treaties that New Zealand has ratified and generally speaking New Zealand only ratifies a treaty if there is existing domestic law that supported the treaty.

Whether the domestic laws that we currently have support pay equity is clearly up for discussion!

Our work relating to pay and employment equity 

Along with Caring Counts, pay equity has featured in various aspects of the Human Rights Commission’s work. 

We have advocated for pay and employment equity in our submissions to international treaty bodies, notably CEDAW. 

The Commission has continued to monitor pay gaps and women’s representation in senior leadership in the public service through the  biennial Census of Women’s Participation (from 2004 to 2012) , Tracking Equality at Work (2011)  and more recently in What’s Working? - improving equal employment opportunities in the public service (2014), which I will talk to later. 

Currently, the Commission is working on an updated Tracking Equality at Work, which will include pay gap data, continuing the work of Caring Counts through the coalition and participating in the kaiawhina workforce action plan. 

In my role as EEO Commissioner I am continually advocating for pay equity including working with leaders in the public service and in the private sector working with UN Women, the EEO Trust and Business and Professional Women promoting women’s empowerment principles.  

What’s Working.

In 2012 we published the pay gaps of public service departments. We observed that apart from Ministry for Women, the poster child for gender pay equality in the public service, the Department of Corrections stood out as having a 2% pay gender gap.

In 2014 we evaluated all the public service departments to see which departments were doing better in terms of equity and explore what they did to get there. 

The five standouts consistently identified three strategies. 

1.   There was clear, unequivocal leadership from the CEO to advance EEO in the organisation. The CEO had to believe it, drive it and take their senior management team with them.

2.   There were deliberate strategies such as recruitment and promotion processes, to advance the EEO groups in the organisation. Equity does not happen by accident. 

We were told many times that that very capable talented women are often more self-effacing, less confident, who don’t play hard for senior roles and they don’t express their ambitions. 

The response needed was to actively sponsor people from groups that were under-represented and to make sure women knew they would be well supported in leadership roles.

3.   The five departments were clearly focussed on their community. Their EEO practices had evolved to meet the needs of the public they served. Interestingly The central agencies − State Services Commission, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Treasury − are among the departments which have poorer EEO outcomes than departments with a more public focus. 

The star here of course is the Department of Corrections with an almost zero pay gender gap. 

Why have they done so well? There are a number of possible reasons

They have a high union density of 67.8 %, which is higher than the average across the public service. We know that unions contribute positively to gender equity by narrowing pay dispersion, improving pay at the bottom of the pay distribution, improving minimum standards and engaging in equality bargaining.

The commitment to reducing re-offending is a deeply held value and this commitment was reflected in all the conversations we had at Corrections. 

Corrections have made a determined effort to recruit and promote women even when 85 per cent of offenders are men. 

Essentially because offenders return to a community composed of women and men, it is important offenders are in an environment where women are a normal part of day-to-day life, and where respectful relationships between men and women are modelled.

There was a real commitment to gender balanced teams.  Even in a riot situation, female corrections officers were expected to hold their own and in fact their presence often lowered the temperature in an overheated confrontation. 

We were told there are very clear competency pathways. Core competencies are spelt out, as well as professional development and supervision.

Again, the comment was made that women were often seen to lack confidence and be more modest about their abilities and senior managers had to persuade capable women to apply for promotion and worked at supporting them to make it work. They then observed these women blossom.

Where to from here for Public Service departments?

There is absolutely no doubt that public service departments can do much, much better. They should be leading in this area and overall they are not, progress has plateaued.  

And for women from non-European ethnicities the disadvantage is compounded. 

The Department of Corrections proves that where there is a will, there is a way. Their zero gender pay gap has not been achieved overnight but has taken a decade or more of commitment and purpose. 

Factors used to ‘explain’ the pay gap are often used to ‘excuse’ it. Departments that are more equitable report that they appoint on merit. Paradoxically departments with a higher level of inequality report that women and other marginalised groups are under-represented because they appoint on merit. 

Quite frankly people are deluded if they believe that women get the same opportunities as men to make it in business, politics and the like.

Policies to enable mothers to return to work and for men and women to balance home and work life are not seen as urgent. 

To counter this uneven playing field affirmative action policies are required. 

When I was in politics I came across some women and men who said that affirmative action policies such as quotas are demeaning and send the message to the target group that they are not capable of being considered on their own merits. 

To that, I say the positives of affirmative action policies, which effectively increase the diversity in Parliament or business far, far outweigh any negatives. To me the ends justify the means.

The Commission has been calling for EEO targets for the public service for some time and will continue to do so. 

Sovereign New Zealand’s CEO won the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership award at the United Nations earlier this year. 

Symon Brewis-Weston said “While it’s humbling to have won this award, the truth is that I never set out to purposely create a diverse workforce. What I always want to achieve is a team that represents our customers, our community and has the skills to deliver amazing work,”

Having said that, he is on record as placing great importance on leadership training and personal development as well as being an advocate for flexible working hours. He says he places more value on performance, collaboration and teamwork rather than who stays the latest. 

But the last word should be about the actual outcomes at Sovereign. The executive leadership team is 45% women (up from 18% in 2010) and the gender pay gap is 4%.

It can be done. It has been done. It needs to be done everywhere.  

Thank you.   

EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue

Dr Blue is committed to progressing human rights and issues of equity, particularly those that affect equal employment opportunities.

Dr Blue also has a strong commitment to advancing the participation of women in society and is the Commission's lead on stopping violence against women.

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