New research reveals large number of Kiwis are experiencing unequal pay

New research reveals large number of Kiwis are experiencing unequal pay

July 2, 2020

Many New Zealanders have reported being paid less for doing the same job as another person, according to new research released today by the Human Rights Commission.

The report “Opinions and Experiences of Unequal Pay and Pay Transparency” reveals when workers experienced lower pay it was sometimes believed to be due to discriminatory reasons such as age, gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability.

“Nearly 44 percent of respondents have experienced being paid less than someone else in the same role during their working career, with women, Pacific people, those aged 18-24, and those earning less than $80,000 most likely to fall in this category,” said Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo.  

Most of the respondents reported a negative impact on this experience, such as feeling that they were treated unfairly or discriminated against said the experience made them feel demotivated and discriminated against. 

“What also concerns me is that many workers chose not to formally complain because they were worried about losing their jobs. This is unacceptable in a country that prides itself on fairness.”

“Now with the impact of COVID 19, I fear people will be too afraid to complain. So, we urgently need our government to step up and legislate to end pay secrecy and ensure equality and fairness for all New Zealander workers.”

Many workers, including disabled New Zealanders, also reported being held back in their job or missing out on career advancement opportunities without good reason.

“This research validates commonly held beliefs that unequal pay is prevalent in New Zealand, and the secrecy around pay and career progression exacerbates it. Sharing the experiences of ordinary Kiwis is crucial to understanding the impacts of unequal pay on the lives of workers, their whānau and communities,” added Sumeo.

“Making pay visible will help job seekers market their talent, indicate a business that values fairness, and help to identify and address unconscious bias and discrimination in our workplaces. Workers need to know that it’s okay and safe to formally complain if they are experiencing unequal treatment.”

The research shows strong support for some pay transparency mechanisms to be legislated, especially from Pacific, Asians, and women who are also more likely to be experiencing unequal pay. For example, 62% of respondents agreed that all employers should be required by law to include the pay rate in their job advertisements.

“Employer anxiety around dealing with questions from workers about fairness and equality over pay and promotional opportunities is not a reason to keep pay scales hidden and locked under legal clauses. Handling conflict well is a sign of good leadership. Courage is needed,” said Sumeo.

The Human Rights Commission has been advocating for the introduction of a pay transparency mechanism to ensure that the Government meets its human rights obligations and that businesses uphold their employment law obligations and human rights commitments.

“The Government, unions, and employers have the opportunity during this crisis to set new rules and provide an environment that truly upholds and protects the dignity and rights of ordinary Kiwis. One’s earnings are significant to enable these rights to be realised”.

Click here to read the report.

Key findings at a glance: 

  • Paying people differently because of a person’s ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender was unacceptable to most respondents.
  • Four times as many respondents believed that unequal pay was common in Aotearoa New Zealand as those who thought it was uncommon.
  • Many respondents (44%) reported being paid less for doing the exact same job as another person.
  • Age, gender, as well as ethnicity, race, colour or national origin were frequently provided as reasons for being paid less.
  • Two out of three respondents who had found out that they were being paid less reported that they were told they were paid less by a work colleague.
  • Most respondents paid less for reasons other than experience or skill level felt aggrieved by the experience.
  • The majority of respondents who reported being paid less did not formally complain, with a number of reasons responsible for this.
  • Disabled respondents were more likely than non-disabled respondents to report that they had been held back in their job or missed out on career advancement opportunities without good reason.
  • Just under two-thirds of respondents successfully applying for a new job were told how much they would be paid before they accepted the job.
  • About one-quarter of respondents reported that they negotiated the pay of their most recent successful job application.
  • Respondents were relatively supportive of the concept of employers being legally required to provide pay information.
  • The most commonly advantage of providing pay information reported by respondents was that it would enable them to access whether their current pay rate is fair.


The “Opinions and Experiences of Unequal Pay and Pay Transparency” report presents the results of a survey completed with a nationally representative sample of 2,370 respondents in paid employment or actively looking for a job.

The survey was completed online between the 28th of February and the 27th of March 2020 and was informed by a qualitative study. Research New Zealand was commissioned to carry out the study and produce the report. 

Media Interviews 

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner is available for interviews. Please contact Rachna Nath on [email protected] or 022 014 7594.