Thursday, February 18, 2010

Equal pay day: Time to take the government to the UN

In my previous post, I said that the government's wilful ignorance in the face of our 12% gender pay gap violated our international obligations. What are these obligations?

In 1981, the United Nations promulgated the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. CEDAW committed its parties to eliminate discrimination against women "without delay". Article 11 requires parties to "take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment" and specifically to ensure

The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value
New Zealand became a party to CEDAW in 1985. Its been 25 years. In that time, the gender pay gap has narrowed, but not closed - and the present government seems to have simply given up on it.

This isn't good enough. Fortunately, there is a solution. In addition to ratifying CEAW, New Zealand is also a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [PDF], a side-treaty which allows the Convention to actually be enforced on its parties.

Complaints can be brought by individuals or groups of individuals, or by NGOs on their behalf. Complainants must have exhausted all domestic legal remedies - but there are no legal remedies to institutional arrangements which permit widespread discrimination, or to the government turning a blind eye to them. A complaint would be investigated by a UN committee of experts (specifically, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), and if successful would see New Zealand named and shamed before the international community, which would almost certainly force policy change.

Its time someone did this. Women have waited 25 years for pay equity - and that's long enough. The government clearly won't act unless a gun is held to its head. Its time the women of New Zealand did that, and exercised their legal right to seek a legal remedy under international law.