Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: A stunning deal that fits the times

It's National, but not as we know it.

It's unionism, but not as we know it.

The massive victory by the unions in the pay equity case is stunning for those factors alone.

So what motivated National, the party of the bosses, to give some of the lowest paid workers $2.048 billion over five years?

And how did the least militant action by a union result in the biggest win in living memory?

First, it was a matter of control.

The Government was driven by the reality that if it did not reach a settlement with the unions, the courts had given every indication they would. They would not only impose a settlement in the Bartlett case, but would come up with criteria to assist future cases.

Governments do not like relinquishing control to the courts.

The alternative would have been to legislate away any such judicial expansion of the Equal Pay Act. That would have been unacceptable to many in the Cabinet, not least because of the essential truth of the claim.

Women's work is low paid because it is women's work and the market values it less than men's.

It would be hard to imagine any member of the Cabinet not recognising that - and if they didn't then Paula Bennett, Judith Collins or Anne Tolley would convince them.

In the old days a certain president of the hairy-armed Federation of Labour used to talk about "workers and their wives".

These days, in a country where addressing grievances is part of the core of what we are, it would have been unacceptable to have either ignored the grievance going through the courts or to have overridden it with law.

The Government had the good fortune to be dealing with a realistic and smart union. The activism over decades by feminists and unionists helped to shift views about women in unions, women as workers, and pay equity.

But the use of the courts to supplement activism has been adroitly pursued by the Service and Food Workers' Union over a series of cases which have put hundreds of millions into the pockets of low-paid workers.

The union was not hung up on dealing with National or back pay.

It was not hung up on only union members getting the benefits.

The result was the best evidence of the best that unions can do.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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