The weekly series takes you behind the scenes of stories by Stuff journalists Kirsty Johnston and Michelle Duff, to hear the voices at the centre of them, in their own words. Produced by broadcaster Noelle McCarthy, the show is an intimate look at the messy complexity of journalism, feminism and the lives it impacts - including episode 3, which explores sexism, racism and work.
New Zealand’s new legislation to ensure gender pay equity is a world-leader. But in Aotearoa, gender bias isn’t the only form of discrimination impacting pay. Kirsty Johnston reports.
When Michelle Troup-Callinan was a child, her mum used to bring work home at night. Sometimes there was so much to do she would line her children up in the lounge to help, painstakingly hand sewing garments to meet her client’s deadline.
Saravaki Troup was a finisher seamstress, an expert in her work. But despite having an overseer's role, and doing extra hours, Troup was paid less than her palagi counterparts.
“That was hard to watch,” Troup-Callinan says. “She would even bring work home to fix others’ mistakes … and she wouldn’t be paid for it, it just became the expected thing.”
Saravaki Troup was from Fiji. She married a Palagi New Zealander and moved here when her daughter was five. Later on, she became a caregiver, at first on a volunteer basis in the community and then, when she saw others being paid for helping the elderly or disabled at home, as a full-time job. At the same time, she continued to care for her family.
“She did phenomenal amounts of mahi,” Troup-Callinan says. If she sat down, she would immediately fall asleep. “That’s the classic image of my mother, asleep with the New Zealand Herald at 9 at night.”
Now, Troup-Callinan also works in the care sector, running a respite home in Whangarei, where she can see the pattern repeating. Care workers in the care industry – made up of predominantly Māori and Pasifika women – are paid an entry rate of $21.50, and a maximum of $27. Shifts are usually ten hours, but aren’t always guaranteed. Even if they are, the pay is rarely enough to keep a family fed.
“There's no way in the world that $21.50 on a part-time salary even with subsidies is going to fulfil the needs of a 6 to 8 person family.”
Previously, conditions in the care sector were even worse. But in 2017, after five years of court cases taken by rest home worker Kristine Bartlett, the courts found that historic gender discrimination had suppressed wages for care and support work.
That led to a $2 billion equity claim, and a settlement package for workers. It also prompted legislation that outlined a clear process to raise and consider claims of sex-based pay undervaluation in female-dominated occupations.
Since then, a number of other groups have begun the process, including nurses, school clerical workers and health administrators. The Equal Pay Amendment Bill is regarded internationally as a huge step forward.
However, increasingly, equal pay advocates believe that the 2020 update to the legislation didn’t go far enough. Because while gender bias is a major form of discrimination in terms of pay, it’s not the only one.
‘Just be grateful’
Workers say ethnicity also has a bearing on how they are hired, paid, and treated by employers.
“I know of instances where women have been told, ‘just be grateful that you've got a job because we can pull anybody off the street to come and work’,” says equal pay advocate Nia Barltley.
“I know of instances where women have changed their names so that they’re less Pasifika in appearance on their resume ... just so they can just get in ... and then once in, there’s another 100 barriers to go through.”
Income surveys show clearly the compounding impacts of bias. Pākehā women earn ten per cent less than Pākehā men. Māori and Pasifika men earn less than them, and Māori women less again. Pasifika women earn the least, with a gap of 27 per cent. In real terms, that sees a Pākehā man earning an average $32.60 an hour while a Pasifika woman earns $21.70.
And while the gender pay gap between Pākehā men and Pākehā women has remained static around ten per cent for the last decade, ethnic pay gaps have increased.
Research has found the reasons for such gaps are complex. Education, occupation choice, age, the type of work and family responsibilities all play a part. But that doesn’t explain away all of the pay differences. The rest comes down to behaviour, attitudes and assumptions, including all kinds of bias and discrimination.
Analysis by Treasury found that for Pasifika, factors like discrimination have more impact on pay than for any other group.
“My thinking is that obviously the Equal Pay Act is inadequate,” says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Dr Karanina Sumeo. “The only grounds for bringing a clam is sex. We don’t have disability, age, or ethnicity. These are big boulders of inequality. They get in the way of equity.”
Do we need to amend the Equal Pay Act again?
Sumeo is among a growing number of campaigners – including politicians, academics, unions, women’s groups and BusinessNZ – who say something needs to change, urgently, so everyone is paid fairly.
These campaigners have suggested two additions to the law. The first is to include other grounds of discrimination within the Equal Pay Act, most likely with another amendment.
“Currently the legislation is only looking at industries which are predominantly made up of women. But other industries with other patterns – for example hospitality – might have cases based on other grounds. That industry is well-known for the exploitation of young people. If we had the provision of age, they could make a case,” Sumeo says.
The same might then go for industries dominated by Māori and Pasifika, such as manufacturing; or horticulture, which employs a lot of migrants; or meat workers.
“Then we are talking about equal opportunities for everyone, in a way that aligns with the Human Rights Act. If we could get the legislation to recognise that, it would be a great starting point.”
Canterbury Law Professor Annick Masselot, an expert on comparative law, says the Equal Pay Act has a “huge problem”.
“It’s not fit for purpose. We have this new pay equity process but it doesn’t take an intersectional vision of equity,” she says.
However, she believes Aotearoa is in a strong position to adapt the legislation because of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Pay equity has been raised at the Mana Wāhine Kaupapa inquiry, which is currently assessing claims which allege prejudice to wāhine Māori as a result of Treaty breaches by the Crown. To address that injustice in legislation would also be a first, Masselot says.
“Nowhere in the world do you have this double requirement of gender and ethnicity in pay laws.”
What about equity within organisations?
Both Sumeo and Masselot also strongly support a second tool to address inequity: pay transparency legislation. Transparency is less about equity between different occupations, and more about equality within organisations, to ensure things like pay raises and promotions are fairly applied.
“Pay transparency” includes a broad range of possible measures. Overseas, examples include national reporting of pay gap data; pay disclosure in job advertisements; or pay disclosure to employees about how much base salary or bonus payments each gender within a company was awarded.
The most likely move in New Zealand would be mandatory reporting. That would see – at a minimum – organisations of a certain size required to report their gender and ethnic pay gaps annually.
Internationally, mandatory reporting has been shown to reduce pay gaps simply by making the data public. For example, in Europe some companies did not believe they had gender pay gaps so had not undertaken any analysis until mandatory reporting was legislated. When they did, they were surprised. In Finland, 56 per cent of companies found pay issues they hadn’t identified until they were required to report.
In the United Kingdom, the introduction of gender pay gap reporting led to a reduction in the gender pay gap of 19 per cent. It is now considering how to close its ethnic disparities, with a group of MPs calling on the government in September to make ethnicity reporting mandatory for larger firms immediately.
The new Mind the Gap campaign, backed by unions, women’s groups and BusinessNZ, is now asking employers to sign on to a registry and commit to pay gap reporting voluntarily from March 2022, arguing the same impact will happen here.
It also wants new legislation requiring all organisations with 50 or more employees to report, covering about 60 per cent of private sector employees.
Spokesperson Dellwyn Stuart says New Zealand has fallen behind other similar countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and South Africa, which all have some form of mandatory reporting.
“The Equal Pay Act says we should have equal pay for equal work but currently there is no mechanism for transparency,” she says.
Other work has taken priority
The Mind the Gap campaign is at least the third attempt to get Jacinda Ardern’s Government to move on pay transparency since it was first elected in 2017. Initially, it was thought the Equal Pay Act would include new rules about pay transparency. However, despite lobbying, they were left out.
At the time, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said it would have "slowed the process down".
He – and his successor Michael Wood and Women’s Minister Jan Tinetti – have since said they are committed to pay transparency, but so far progress has been slow. Wood says other work such as Fair Pay Agreements and the Covid-19 response have taken priority.
However, the Education and Workforce Select Committee is holding an inquiry into pay transparency and Wood says he’ll “carefully consider its findings”.
“I hope to continue our progress on pay transparency as soon as more resources become available.”
Education and Workforce select committee member, Labour MP Camilla Belich, says she’s hopeful their inquiry will help build consensus on what pay transparency tools in New Zealand should look like.
“We have asked people what model they’re actually advocating for,” she says. “It’s helpful to gauge thoughts on that.”
With regards to the Equal Pay Act, Belich says any settled claims for female-dominated workforce will have positive impacts for Māori and Pasifika, who are included in those groups.
“That process does take time. But when the settlements come through there will be more of a move in ethnic pay gaps,” she says.
Green Party Workplace Relations and Safety spokeswoman Jan Logie says it is frustrating thatthe Labour Government supports pay transparency in theory, but has failed to make progress.
Gender equity measures were part of the Green Party’s confidence and supply agreement with the co-alition in 2017.
“Tens of thousands of low-paid women in particular bear the cost of exploitation,” she says.
It would also likely help children. Research from the Human Rights Commission shows that when the main earner in the household is female the in-work poverty rate is substantially higher.
“We know that transparency helps end exploitation,” Logie says. “When you put light on a problem it helps to resolve the problem.”
Exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic
Meanwhile, workers like Michelle Troup-Callinan say the pandemic is making a dire situation even worse. She’s had workers ask for loans, stretched to the limit with lockdowns and no school lunches, and everyone at home needing to be fed.
“We have a huge amount of people here in the North – Pacific as well as Māori – where the females are the predominant breadwinner up here and that of course perpetuates the situation,” she says.
“They’re coming four days before payday and it’s clearly for food. How do I support someone like that? You know because it's quite embarrassing to have even needed to get to that stage particularly for Pasifika.”
Bartley says it’s not enough for people to simply applaud essential workers any more.
“It’s nice to receive those lovely compliments and commendations but show the money. Provide the opportunity, help with housing, help with education,” she says. “Because Pasifika have been overlooked for far too long.”