Historic Bill or opportunity missed?

Historic Bill or opportunity missed?

August 10, 2017

The Human Rights Commission have expressed their concern over the Government’s largely unchanged Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill following its first reading today. 

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Dr Jackie Blue says she is concerned that despite receiving almost 100 submissions suggesting changes to the draft exposure Employment Bill, the Government has left it largely unaltered. 

“There is no doubt whatsoever that the pay equity principles put forward by the Joint Working Group (JWG) that were agreed to by the Government, along with the $2 billion carers and support settlement, will go down as a defining and historic moment in New Zealand history.

“This legislation could also be truly ground breaking and world leading, but it needs to remain true to the agreed principles.

The Commission’s own submission on the Draft Exposure of the Bill outlined particular concerns and suggestions around: 

  • Requirements for women to provide onerous levels of evidence their pay equity claim has merit, shutting out some individuals or small groups with no access to support, resources, legal advice or the ability to do in depth labour market research and analysis. The JWG were very clear that there should be equitable access to resources for all claimants.
  • A range of comparators and a range of skill sets need to be used as a bargaining tool in assessing a pay equity claim. The rigid hierarchy of using male comparators internally in the workplace, then similar businesses, before going externally means that each step could be challenged resulting in a protracted process with parties being unable move forward. The JWG was clear that the resolution of a pay equity claim should be timely and efficient.

We note that in the Terranova v Bartlett case, agreement on comparators was not necessary for resolution.

  • A pay transparency mechanism is currently not incorporated in the Bill and should be - pay transparency is fundamental and complementary to an equal pay regime. 
  • The bill requires that an employee makes a complaint to the employer that they are concerned that they are being underpaid. It would be far preferable that the employer has a positive duty to ensure that employees are receiving equal pay.

“Given the Bill has now passed its first reading, it is absolutely vital that the select committee submissions process is thorough, thoughtful and constructive to ensure the final legislation provides a fair outcome for workers who have had an unfair deal for far too long,” Dr Blue says.  

“The Government, through its engagement with the JWG on Pay Equity Principles, have taken positive steps in recent times. It is important that they continue to build on that foundation and getting this legislation right will be an important part of that.

“The Commission looks forward to making its own submission to the Select Committee in the coming months to ensure that our concerns and suggestions are addressed,” Dr Blue says.