Monday, July 04, 2011

Closing the gender pay gap

Forty years ago, the New Zealand parliament passed the Equal Pay Act 1972, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender in wage rates. The result has been to gradually close the gender pay gap, from 30.1% then, to a mere 12.6% today. At that speed, women are looking at waiting another thirty years for equality - a period acceptable to our business leaders (who support discrimination), but which should not be acceptable to the rest of us.

The Greens have proposed solving this problem - or at least moving faster - with amendments to the Equal Pay Act allowing the government to gather more information about it and allowing employees to find out what other people are paid (or have an independent assessor find out for them), so that discrimination can be uncovered and eliminated. These are good steps, but over the weekend, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor went one better, with a bill [PDF] which would immediately require equal pay by inserting into every employment contract and collective agreement an "equality clause", requiring equal pay for equal work. The bill would also void any confidentiality clause preventing employees from revealing their own pay rates to uncover discrimination, and allows Department of Labour inspectors to access information about pay rates to demand business records where pay discrimination is suspected (this has been misleadingly reported by the Herald as eliminating privacy of pay details, something which suggests that their "journalist" did not even bother to read the bill when researching the story).

The bill itself is poorly drafted, and needs a lot of work. But the core provisions are good policy, and will be effective at eliminating discrimination. The question is whether our politicians care enough about the issue to pick it up and run with it - or whether they are content to let women wait thirty more years for the equality we promised them forty years ago.