Māori and Pasifika working in district health boards are 56 and 71 times less likely than others to be paid over $100,000 respectively, according to new ethnic pay gap research.

The Auckland University of Technology study analysed data from 2001 to 2016, and found disproportionately lower representation of Māori and Pacific peoples across all DHBs, compared to the national population.

In 2016 just 2.7 per cent of staff earning over $100,000 were Māori, and 1.4 per cent Pasifika, despite making up over 15 per cent and nearly 8 per cent of the population respectively.

Researchers also analysed the core public service departments (CPSDs), and found just 7.2 per cent of those earning over $100,000 were Māori, and 1.7 per cent Pasifika.

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"This failure to promote Māori and Pacific staff to the top tiers of the public sector is consistent with definitions of institutional racism," said Dr Heather Came, head of AUT's Public Health Department.

The data, collected from 28 CPSDs and all 20 district DHBs and obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA), revealed ethnic pay disparities across the public sector, as well as a gap in employment policy rhetoric and practice.

"From this study, we now know that entire Government departments have, at different times, had no senior Māori or Pacific staff," Came said.

"This suggests that our public and health sectors do not have the benefit of Māori and Pacific expertise, even though improved outcomes for these groups is often a Government priority.

"The absence of this crucial and high-level input may be contributing to the problems we continue to see in health, education and the justice system, for indigenous and ethnic minority communities."

New Zealand district health board staff by ethnicity. Image / Supplied
New Zealand district health board staff by ethnicity. Image / Supplied

A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal this month found Māori were 50 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19 than non-Māori, largely due to higher rates of multiple underlying health conditions (comorbidities).

This accompanies stark broader statistics, which show on average Māori die seven years younger than non-Māori, are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease or heart failure, and one and a half times more likely to die from stroke or cancer than non-Māori.

Rheumatic heart disease rates are five times higher and twice as high for diabetes.

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The AUT study, published in the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, aimed to identify the extent of ethnic pay disparities among senior management in the public sector.

The State Services Commission (SSC) publishes workforce data on public service employees earning six figures or more, but there is no breakdown by ethnicity.

Researchers analysed the total number of full-time equivalent staff by ethnicity (Māori, Pacific, or Other) focusing on those who earned more than $100,000.

New Zealand public service staff earning over $100,000 by ethnicity. Image / Supplied
New Zealand public service staff earning over $100,000 by ethnicity. Image / Supplied

The findings provide a snapshot of the ethnic pay gap at four points in time (2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016) over a 15-year period.

Despite the significantly lower representation, and particularly in the higher pay bracket - which indicated senior and leadership positions - there had been a gradual improving trend over the 15 years.

In 2001, only 14 (of 26) CPSDs had Māori staff who earned more than $100,000, which increased to 21 in 2006, 23 in 2011, and 26 in 2016.

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In 2001, only four had Pacific staff who earned more than $100,000, which increased to 9 in 2006 and 18 in 2011, and reduced to 16 in 2016.

At DHBs, while the proportion of Māori and Pacific earning more than $100,000 increased, from 0.5 to 2.7 per cent and 0.5 to 1.4 per cent respectively, the ethnic pay gap remained consistently high.

On average, Māori and Pacific staff at DHBs were significantly less likely to earn more than $100,000, (56 and 71 times, respectively) compared to the Other ethnic group.

While the data showed some improvements, it was "nowhere near the level" expected given New Zealand has had equal-pay and anti-discrimination legislation for decades, Came said.

New Zealand district health board staff earning over $100,000 by ethnicity. Image / Supplied
New Zealand district health board staff earning over $100,000 by ethnicity. Image / Supplied

From 1988, all state sector chief executives were required to have an Equal Employment Opportunity programme.

To hold this to account, government data collection on ethnic pay gaps needed to improve.

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Came also called for a review of human resources (HR) practices within the public sector.

"While this study provides some important new quantitative data, we also need more qualitative research about ethnic pay disparities.

"We need to look at why HR teams persist in not recruiting or promoting Māori and Pacific staff to senior roles.

"Furthermore, we need to understand from Māori and Pacific peoples why they are not necessarily putting themselves forward.

"Is it a matter of cultural safety or an absence of the appropriate skills and expertise?"

Ensuring that Māori and Pasifika left university with academic qualifications that enabled them to be recruited to senior roles was also part of the solution.

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"Ad hoc diversity programmes" had proven ineffective, indicating system changes were needed, Came said.

"Let's name institutional racism and engage with this systemic challenge."

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said in recent years their focus had been to close the gender pay gap, and now they were focusing more on closing the ethnic pay gap.

"Last year, I said I wanted to see faster progress to close the ethnic pay gap and the shortage of Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicities in leadership and management roles. And that is what we are doing."

Overall, the Māori pay closed from 11.2 per cent in 2018 to 9.9 per cent in 2019, he said.

While the Pasifika pay gap shrunk only from 21.6 per cent to 20.1 per cent.

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The next data was due for release in November, when more progress was expected, Hughes said.

A DHB spokeswoman said increasing Māori participation in the workforce was a priority and reflected obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and a focus on equity.

In 2019 chief executives created targets, which will be available in a few weeks, she said.

As of June 2020, DHBs had ethnicity information for 96 per cent of all DHB employees, and of those around 8.2 per cent identified as Māori.