Rachel Mackintosh: Let's lead the way on gender-equal pay

the data shows that in our society men are paid 13 per cent more than women. Photo / Getty Images
the data shows that in our society men are paid 13 per cent more than women. Photo / Getty Images

• Rachel Mackintosh is vice-president of the Council of Trade Unions

Of course there are differences between what people are paid - sometimes it's because of skills or experience, sometimes it's education. All these factors can make sense. What doesn't make sense is when there is a difference in pay based on gender; when men are paid more than women. There is no good reason why across New Zealand there is a difference.

But the data shows that in our society men are paid 13 per cent more than women. Something is out of balance. Something is wrong.

Today marks the 87 per cent point for 2016 - there's 13 per cent of the year left. If we think about the gender pay imbalance like an annual salary, from today women stop getting paid. They'll still be working out the year, they'll just be doing it for free.

Men can enjoy a return on their work that covers them through to 2017.

Imagine for a moment what would it mean for you not to be paid from today until the start of 2017? Assuming you work full time, five days a week, that means 34 days of gifting your time, your effort to your employer or your clients. Does that seem like a good thing? You wouldn't be alone, but how would you feel if you knew there was some unwritten rule that half the population didn't have to do the same?

We can fix this. We can make New Zealand fairer. We really can. We just have to choose to.

First, we can choose to pay everyone fairly. We can, as a society, choose to value work more fairly. Fair would be valuing occupations which are female dominated and paying the people who work in these roles better - fairer.

We all know that caring is exhausting and hard work - anyone who has ever looked after a child, a sick friend, a dependent parent knows this to be true.

Yet we pay the people who do this for a living barely more than the minimum wage. We have, along with much of the world, worn a lens of sexism, we have judged some jobs to be "women's work".

And although, for most of us, this judgment wasn't a conscious one, it is a collective decision we made and a decision we can change our mind about.

We could choose to have a framework which lets employers and working people identify whether their job is being fairly remunerated. Actually, a group of people representing the Government, business and working people have already done this work. They've created "Equal Pay Principles". All that's needed now is for the Government to agree to make the principles a reality. If the Prime Minister has a problem with equal pay, he should say so. Because it looks as if he is choosing to defend the gender pay imbalance. And in a fair country he shouldn't be free to make that choice.

Another thing we can do is agree to settle existing equal pay claims like that of rest-home care worker Kristine Bartlett. The courts have agreed with Kristine, that she and her colleagues do indeed have an equal pay claim. This means our legal system agrees that, in this case at least, caregivers have not been fairly paid because the work they do, caring for our elderly, has been systematically undervalued because it's been performed mainly by women.

We can make this right. Let's look at work which requires the employee to actually care about another human being and assess whether these special skills and attributes are being valued. Again, in the case of caring, it is the Government that funds this work on behalf of us all, and they can chose to pay carers properly.

New Zealand was the first country in the world where women successfully won the right to vote. We could be the first country in the world to pay people fairly for the work they do regardless of their gender.

That would be make me proud. For my daughter, for my granddaughter, who at two months old is still a long way off joining the workforce. I want her to read in history books about when men and women were paid differently based on their gender.

I want better for her, I don't want her to ever work for free.

- NZ Herald

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