Prue Hyman’s Column

1a prue hymanNew columnist joins KIN

Kapiti Independent welcomes Prue Hyman, of Paekakariki, who will contribute a monthly column looking at some of the key issues in the struggle for a fairer, saner society in this country.

Prue  is the author of Women and Economics: A New Zealand Feminist Perspective and a retired VUW lecturer. She describes herself as a ‘feminist, green, lefty activist and alternative economist.’ She has lived on the Kapiti Coast for more than 40 years, the last 15 of them with her partner, Pat Rosier.

In her first monthly column, Prue looks at a key issue for the large number of carers working and living on the Coast.

Ongoing Battle to get equal pay for carers

By Prue Hyman

The Court of Appeal on February 3rd will hear an important case, the appeal of Terranova Homes and Care Ltd against an Employment Court judgement favourable to plaintiff Kristine Bartlett and her union, the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU).

This case was about pay equity for carers and the undervaluation of female dominated work while the decision was a small step towards a remedy.

Women are still a long way from achieving equality to men in the New Zealand labour market despite considerable progress over the last half century. In particular, advocates of pay equity argue that most types of female dominated work are still undervalued by the market for historical and social reasons.

A glaring example is caring work (35,000 workers in residential aged care, over 90% female), as the Human Rights Commission’s report ‘Caring Counts’ clearly demonstrates.

There is also a significant gap between the pay of carers in the private and public sectors, with the lower private sector pay levels being primarily due to inadequate funding of private rest home under the contracting system – combined with prioritising profits over staff conditions.

The current government has no intention of improving the situation facing these or other lower paid and female employees through better funding and/or pay equity policies.

Equal pay for work of equal value is broader than equal pay for identical work. It requires work assessed as needing similar overall levels of skill, responsibility, effort and working conditions (in total, not necessarily on each component separately) to be paid equally.

This is mandated by ILO 100 and by the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, both of which New Zealand have ratified.

Unions, academics, and activists have long argued that the 1972 Equal Pay Act does cover equal pay for work of equal value, but it was not routinely interpreted in this way.

The Act has not been tested since an unfavourable ruling in the mid 1980s. Instead, clearer legislation was fought for, won, and then repealed.

So SFWU decided the time was right to try again with the 1972 Act. The three day hearing in June centred on its proper interpretation. Kristine Bartlett and the SFWU argue that she is paid less than she would be if the occupation was not female dominated.

There are a few men in the job, paid the same as the women, and the employers’ defense was that this means all is well.

But the union argued that they too are paid essentially a depressed female rate and that correct statutory interpretation allows and needs wider work and pay comparisons. They sought a broad and liberal interpretation in line with several recent Employment Court judgements.

Anti-discrimination legislation and the Bill of Rights Act post-date the 1972 Act, with an improved understanding of direct, indirect, and systemic discrimination – the deliberate intention to discriminate may be absent, yet discrimination still occurs.

Two pay equity groups, the Pay Equity Challenge Coalition and the Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay, made submissions as interveners, with CEVEP emphasising the practicability of making broad comparisons of the value of different types of work, using gender neutral job evaluation systems developed and readily available in NZ and overseas.

Unions and activists have hailed the proceedings and the Employment Court decision on the case. Chief Judge Colgan questioned the employers’ cost arguments, pointing out that similar ones were made against the abolition of slavery!

The Court essentially agreed with the union arguments in a very clear judgement.

If the appeal fails, the case will move to a second stage, where the parties in negotiation and/or the Court will be concerned with the pay and value of the caring work itself, probably with outside comparators. Meantime, many similar claims have been filed by SFWU and the Public Service Association.  Watch this space!

For more information on the case, see http://payequity.wordpress.com/ and http://www.cevepnz.org.nz/ and on the general background, the government website section on pay and employment equity remains a good source, see http://www.dol.govt.nz/services/PayAndEmploymentEquity/