Thursday, November 24, 2016

A victory for women

Last year, the government tried to get equal pay off the political agenda by establishing a Joint Working Group on Pay Equity. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way - in June it reported back, recommending changes to the Employment Relations and Equal Pay Acts which would make it far easier to lodge discrimination claims, while requiring employers to use comparator professions which were not themselves undervalued due to systematic discrimination. After sittign on them for six months, the government has finally released its response, (mostly) accepting the recommendations:

In a major boost in the fight for pay equity women will be able to file claims with employers and not have to go through the courts.

The move has been hailed by the Public Service Association as enabling New Zealand to "once again claim to be a leader in gender equality".

The changes will mean employees who believe they are underpaid because they do work in fields dominated by women will be able to approach their employer to raise a pay equity claim.

The big difference is in the choice of comparators, the profession which a profession is to be compared to when determining whether women are receiving the legally required equal pay for work of equal value. The Joint Working Group recommended that any appropriate, non-undervalued comparator could be used. The government wants to force women to use comparators in their own business, then industry, then sector, which increases the chance that the comparator itself will be undervalued. There's the fallback of the courts, but we've already seen how difficult that is in practice. OTOH, by bringing the process within the Employment Relations Act, women can strike over it, picket over it, and trash their employer's reputation over it. And I think the latter especially is going to be a powerful bargaining chip in the underpaid service sector. In the modern era, no sane business wants to be publicly labelled as discriminating against women, and one campaign can permanently poison a brand with both customers and potential employees.

While its not everything that was hoped for, this still looks like a major step forward. The sooner it is implemented, the better.