Kerre McIvor: Workers, take to the streets

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Suffragettes agitated for rights for women. Now, it should be workers in general who agitate. Photo / Dean Purcell
Suffragettes agitated for rights for women. Now, it should be workers in general who agitate. Photo / Dean Purcell

That men earn more than women is not news. Feminists, lobbyists and advocacy groups all around the Western world have been banging on about the pay gap for years as an example of women being exploited by the patriarchy.

There are two parts to the complaint - one is that women earn just 86 cents to every dollar a man earns.

The second is that in occupations and professions dominated by women, the pay is far lower than jobs where men are in the majority. Nurses and police officers, for example.

Advocates for reducing the gender pay gap say the two professions require similar training, face similar dangers and work similar hours - yet police officers earn a much higher hourly rate than nurses.

I don't buy the apples and pears argument. If a woman police officer, with the same qualifications, training and experience as her male colleague was earning less than him, then sure, hand me a placard and see me march in the street.

Similarly, if a male teacher was earning more than his female colleagues, I'd storm the staffroom with the sisterhood. But once we start comparing occupations, the arguments aren't valid.

If nurses believe they should be paid more, if care workers believe they should be paid more, if social workers believe they should be paid more, then lobby for it.

Use your collective voices to demand the Government increase your salaries.

Many unions have been weakened because people have opted out of them. Joining a union would be the first step.

And if taxpayers value the work that so many of these women do, vote for a party that supports paying them more.

I accept many people are woefully underpaid - and many of them happen to be in occupations dominated by women. But I don't believe we live in an inherently sexist society.

I could have gone into management. I was offered a job as a management trainee by AHI Roofing in Hamilton when I left school - I believe the first girl to be offered a management trainee position.

I accepted it - but when I got into journalism school, I rang the boss to say I wouldn't be going into roofing. How could galvanised steel compete with journalism?

Had I stayed with AHI, who knows? Business management would have probably earned me far more money than sticking with the media.

But it was all about having fun. I have no desire to work 60 and 80 hour weeks. I don't want the responsibility of employing thousands of workers.

I would hate to have to answer to directors and shareholders. And I really don't care about earning millions. That's not because I'm a woman. It's because I choose a lifestyle over earning millions.

And plenty of New Zealanders feel the same.

In the olden days - that is, the 1970s - teachers, police officers, nurses and backbenchers earned about the same. Now, backbench politicians' salaries have soared, and I think we're all in agreement as to which professions offer more value to the taxpayers.

We are lucky to live in a country that offers us choice. So get on with it. If you feel you're being undervalued and underpaid, join your union and use the power of your collective labour to bring about change. That's how it was done by workers in years gone by.

We have a history of stroppy and strident women changing the way things are done. Whining that you're unfairly treated simply because you're a woman does them, and women workers, a disservice.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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