Your income is your greatest asset. It's usually not your house, your car, or other things you own. Multiply your income over 40 to 45 years in the workforce and it adds up to a whole lot of money.
Even $1 an hour more adds up to $2080 for a year, or $83,200 over a 40-year working life, although that's before tax and doesn't factor in inflation. The point is that even small pay rises add up. Sometimes you have to push for those pay rises or move to a new employer for more.
I once interviewed a single mum of four who had no educational qualifications but worked her way up from part-time cleaner to regional manager at facilities services company OCS New Zealand. She always looked at whoever was the next rung up and figured out how she could get that job next time it came up.
Some workplaces have fixed hourly remuneration. If you work in an entry-level job at a chain such as KFC or Subway, or on the shop floor of a large retail chain, for example, you can't negotiate your own rate. You can move faster up the pay scale by taking on more responsibility, such as training other staff. Those promotions will look good on your CV also.
Clinching that next pay rise is most certainly not all personal responsibility. Yes, you may need to educate yourself about job opportunities and development programmes within your organisation.
Diversity Works New Zealand chief executive Maretha Smit says some companies provide better programmes to develop staff and you may need to make an active choice to move to one of those organisations. It's a good idea to look at what programmes workplaces have in place for staff development. Look at the senior management. Is it diverse? That may not be your ambition. But it tells you a lot about an organisation.
Unfortunately there are barriers in place in many organisations that stop some people moving up simply because of their age, gender or ethnicity. Many works places are riddled with unconscious bias.
The causes of the pay gap are complex and mostly relate to differences in occupations as opposed to intra-occupational variation in pay, says Smit. "As such it's not so much about an individual's ability to negotiate better pay as it is about the systemic impact of women being over represented in typically care-related occupations which command, at this point in time, lower salaries," she says. "This also impacts other diverse groups such as people with disabilities and specific ethnic groups."
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Being a union member can help, especially where there is a collective agreement in place. It's easier for the union to negotiate than individuals. Sometimes, says E tū union's assistant national secretary Annie Newman, it's harder to negotiate in a small business where you know the owner. Another reason to belong to your union is to find out how much you're worth in the workplace. Most workers don't know what the person next to them is earning. Men, especially white males, are often promoted more quickly than other workers.
Newman remembers in her own early career she found out more than once that the men alongside her were earning more. In many industries it's assumed that the men are the ones to promote.
By law, says Smit, employers must pay people equally for work in roles that require the same skill, effort and responsibility. "If you suspect that this is not the case in your organisation, you can take the matter further through internal organisation processes or by getting external legal advice," she says.
Whatever your situation, if you're not looking for ways to get regular pay rises you may be left behind. Don't take the Covid sob story and other cry-a-river excuses as the be and end all for not receiving pay rises. New Zealand has a skills shortage in many many industries. Those "skills" are often just experience and you don't need a degree to be in demand.