The Government says recommended changes to the rules for pay equity claims should result in a fairer deal for female-dominated workforces who believe they are paid less than men in comparable jobs.
A working group on pay equity was reconvened last month after Labour and the Green Party threw out National's proposed legislation for handling pay equity claims, saying it set the bar too high.
The group included representatives from the unions and business and has recommended changes including clarifying the threshold those lodging a claim had to meet for it to proceed and more information and support for groups lodging claims as well as employers.
In its letter to the Government, the panel said the original intention was for it to be a simple and accessible process, but it had learned from those using it that it was not.
It also wanted the principles on which claims were based in the Fair Pay Act and for that legislation to include appropriate appeals processes should bargaining fail.
However, it did not recommend any changes to the principles used when deciding what other workforce was comparable.
The pay equity claims process is for workforces which are predominantly female who believe they are paid less than male-dominated workforces with similar levels of skills and training.
It was worked out after the $2 billion settlement in the Terranova carers' case, spearheaded by aged care worker Kristine Bartlett.
The changes proposed have not yet been considered by Cabinet but Women's Minister and Green MP Julie Anne Genter said they formed a strong foundation for improving fairness for women.
"People on the working group are on the front lines of negotiating pay equity claims and their agreement on these important issues means a lot," Genter said.
In its recommendations, the panel recommended removing the term ''merit'' from the principles used in determining whether a claim can be taken, saying it had created an unintended barrier.
"The original intention of the [group] was that identifying and initiating a claim would be a simple and accessible process to all parties."
It said it had learned that was not the case from groups in the education, social and health sectors which were working on claims.
It said some had misinterpreted the original principles it had set out for a claim as a higher hurdle than was intended.
It has proposed changes to the factors looked at in assessing a claim. That will include clarifying the main requirement is for a workforce to be female dominated. Other factors were whether there was historical underpayment and assessment of ongoing system issues – but those other factors were not required to be shown for a claim to proceed.
Although it was asked to look at changes to the principles used in working out which male workforces were comparable, it said no changes were needed and that should be done using existing good faith bargaining.
Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said any legislation was expected to be passed by the middle of the year. The aim of the panel was to look at "a fairer deal for women".
"The previous government introduced legislation that set unnecessary hurdles for women to make a pay equity claim," Lees-Galloway said.
Since the carers' settlement, the Labour Government has agreed to negotiate extending that agreement to about 38,000 mental health and addiction support workers. Other groups looking at pay equity claims include part-time teachers.
The Greens have also called for it to be compulsory for businesses to report on the pay gap in their own companies.
In its letter, the working group said it was not asked to look at wider issues but noted that the pay equity process alone would not solve disparity.
It said the gender pay gap and equal employment opportunities were two others areas which needed work and pointed to the work underway on the pay gap in the state sector.
The working group was led by Crown facilitator Traci Houpapa and included CTU head Richard Wagstaff, Business NZ head Kirk Hope, and representatives from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and State Services Commission.
When Labour threw out the old bill, including a six-year limit on equal pay claims, Lees-Galloway said it diminished the ability for other workers to make a claim similar to the TerraNova one.