NZNO's Blog

Where to next on pay equity/equal pay?


This blog is by Cee Payne, Industrial Services Manager for NZNO. Cee represented NZNO as part of the cross union bargaining team in the hard – won settlement offer for caregivers. Here she outlines some issues with the new proposed law, and what NZNO members can do to make it better.

IMG_5116Excitement at the pay offer settlement announcement for caregivers. Cee is pictured centre in the red skirt in front of Memo Musa, NZNO CE, Grant Brookes NZNO President at left, and NZNO caregiver members.

Pay equity/equal pay has been on a roller coaster ride in the last few weeks in New Zealand. First, we had the historic announcement of the Government’s $2 billion offer of settlement for Kristine Bartlett’s pay equity case for caregivers. The mood from caregivers across the motu was one of total relief and celebration. These women have been waiting so long on the minimum wage or close to it for better recognition of their value. It felt like the confetti had barely settled the very next day when the Government announced they were introducing a new draft Employment (Pay Equity/Equal Pay) law. This law includes a new ‘principle’ –the ‘proximity principle’ – that could have stopped Kristine’s case from ever happening

The mood of celebration turned into a gasp of disbelief from many of our members, who understandably worry about what this means for them. Unions were just as upset at both the message and the timing. The really annoying thing is that apart from this problem and a few other issues we can improve on, the new law sets out a better and easier process for making future pay equity/equal pay claims. It means other groups of women don’t have to go through many expensive rounds of court battles to achieve pay equity/equal pay.

I was one of the negotiators on the pay equity settlement for care and support workers and on the cross union, government and business equal pay principles working group. We had nearly two full – on years of research, meetings, and consultation to get the result we did for care and support workers. And although it was a long process, I believe the principles we used can work, if they are not restricted by this new ‘proximity principle’. In fact, New Zealand will probably have the best pay equity/equal pay law in the world if we can sort this out.

Kristine and the negotiation team signing the terms of settlement of the pay equity offer for caregivers in the Beehive, Monday the 2nd of May 2017. Cee is signing on behalf of NZNO.

Pay equity is being paid fairly for different jobs that are similar, and equal pay is being paid the same as men for the same work. What the Government is proposing for pay equity is that for women in historically female dominated jobs you have to first find a relevant male-dominated job to compare yours to in your own workplace. Then if there is no relevant job available, you can look in your own industry before you can look outside your sector at other jobs done mostly by men with the same or similar skills, training and responsibilities. So for Kristine Bartlett for example, her employer wanted to argue she should be compared to a gardener working at a rest home. But wages are low across the whole aged care sector because it is female dominated, so her union E tū thought she should be compared to a Corrections Officer-a better fit for her skills, responsibility, effort and conditions of work. These male dominated jobs are called ‘comparators’.

Finding the best comparator or even multiple comparators can be a long process but it’s an important one to get right. There will be no perfect male-dominated equivalent, so you might need to take one job for the qualifications, another for the effort, and a third for similar conditions of work to make your case. NZNO believes it’s really important we find the best job, not the physically closest, especially since so much of the health sector is female dominated. Otherwise, equal pay cases could be artificially restricted by the same discrimination we are trying to re-balance.

The good news is it’s not too late. The Government is taking submissions on the new law until the 11th of May before it has to start going through parliament. The more people that write to them, the better chance of removing this new principle to get the fairest comparators. It is imperative the Government passes the best pay equity/equal pay law in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

We don’t know yet which other parts of the membership could be eligible for cases in the future, or if police, engineers, or any other job would be the best ‘comparator’. NZNO is committed to 100% of our members who are performing work historically undertaken by women achieving pay equity/ equal pay. There are existing pay inequalities between different groups of our membership, and we need to carefully go through each group once we have the new law. Any case of course would involve significant consultation with and campaigning from members, just like we did with caregivers.

But right now the most important thing for all future cases is getting a fair and sustainable law that works. For that we need your support. If you feel passionate about women being paid for their worth and ending gender discrimination forever, write to the Government right now and tell them why you don’t support the ‘proximity principle’ before they write it into the law. Send us a copy of what you said too by emailing It could be the best invested 5 minutes of your life.


4 thoughts on “Where to next on pay equity/equal pay?

  1. I am in total support of this new pay initiative. Care workers are hard workers! However, how are the new pay rates enabling or encouraging new nurses, since the wages will be similar? Does Nzno plan to fight for RN wages to be improved?

    • Michelle, there are two parts to your question. The first one is that RN wages are set in the DHB (and in some other sectors) through collective bargaining negotiations with employers that NZNO undertakes on behalf of members. The DHB MECA negotiations are starting now, there will be meeting notices going out in worksites soon. Pay is one of the bargaining claims for RNs and other DHB staff. In order to get the best deal for members, we need to get a high turnout of staff- no turnout, no bargaining force. So encouraging others to get along to endorsement meetings is the best way to achieve better terms and conditions.

      The second part to your question is that any future equal pay claims for any sector will go through under this new law. That’s why we’ve written this blog to members to write to the Government now. If the law is weak, our power to do anything about future claims is weak- the claims will only be as good as the law.

      NZNO as an organisation is only as good as the members. The members are the union- paid staff only represent and help them. In both cases, for improvement of member wages, members need to take the lead in activism to achieve it. Our strength is in our active numbers. Cheers, Jenn.

  2. I have major concerns. Level 3 gets $21 hour. Level 4 gets $23. Both have never been without a full time job to do their correspondence courses.. yet. Level 7.. RN with a debt and 3 years of no income.. $25.. why go nursing. Stress. Responsibility.. 20 hours a year study.. that is mainly funded by the nurse? RN. Nzno member for 30 years

    • Hi Sharon. The caregiver settlement is a victory for them that better recognises their hard work and skills. Improving conditions for one group does not come at the expense of any other group. This settlement was only achieved after multiple rounds of court cases, many campaign marches, meetings, letters, other caregivers signing on to the legal case, and then two years of negotiations with the Government. This is all because one caregiver decided she was going to be paid her worth and didn’t give up at any obstacle, and other members supported her.

      Similarly, the case will have flow-on effects for other groups. But NZNO is only as strong as our members, and our ability to advocate on their behalf comes from our strength in numbers. Right now we are negotiating the MECA for DHB members, and we need as many people to go along to those meetings as possible to give us the strongest bargaining position. We also need people to write to the Government about the law, as any potential future cases we take will be negotiated in the framework of the new law. So if the law is weak, groups of mostly women workers won’t be able to achieve as good a deal as possible.

      That’s why we have written this blog, because the union IS the membership. The best way that nurses can improve their pay and conditions is to get actively involved in their bargaining rounds. And for all women, we need to show our strength in the equal pay campaign. This is only the beginning, but we need the law to be right first.

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