Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On fresh evidence about the gender pay gap

March 9th, 2010

An appropriate newsflash yesterday for International Women’s Day. After analyzing Inland Revenue data, the Women’s Ministry has found that women almost immediately begin to be paid less than men who have the same tertiary education qualifications. That gender pay gap starts at 6% on average after the first year in the workplace, and reaches 20% in some professions. So much for the encouraging data, NZUSA women’s rights officer Sophie Blair pointed to yesterday about the trend of high participation rates by women in tertiary education. While welcome, that rise in participation also seems to be producing a more highly qualified supply of female workers who cost less to employ.

On the evidence, the market is therefore doing what markets always do – it is exploiting existing social distortions in the name of profit. Historically, every major advance in workplace conditions has been through outside intervention, usually forced upon employers by government. In the blatant case of gender-based pay discrimination (which is evidently rife even at the upper end of the wage and qualifications spectrum) government will once more need to take the lead. Yet so far, the Key government’s response could hardly be more lame.

For example : when announcing her own Ministry’s damning findings Women’s Affairs Minister Pansy Wong called for a further 10 year study of 6,000 graduates that might provide some ‘fresh insights’ into the issue. Yep – having found evidence of blatant and widespread discrimination, let’s not actually do anything about it. Instead, let’s waste another decade on studying why and whether it exists. Meanwhile, the government seems to be set on changing workplace laws and enacting economic policies that are likely to have adverse impacts on women in particular.

As CTU president Helen Kelly said yesterday, the government disbanded the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within the Department of Labour last year. In the future, it also promises to enact workplace reforms that are likely to be particularly harmful to women workers :

“The changes that the Government is signalling in personal grievance procedures, the Holidays Act, and in the review of the vulnerable workers legislation would all impact heavily on women because of their disproportionate representation in certain kinds of work.”

At the same time, Kelly added, the government is virtually ensuring that the negative impacts of policy on women will not even be considered, let alone reversed. Men continue to dominate the working groups and expert panels that are advising the Key government on the future direction of social and economic policy :

….All these working groups – on tax, ACC stocktake, capital infrastructure, the 2025 Task Force – have been dominated by men and in some cases contain no women at all.”

The government may believe there are few votes at stake among educated women. It may have calculated that most women who feel concerned about the social injustice of gender discrimination in the workplace are likely to be centre left voters, with the remainder being business women willing to combat purely by their own efforts any personal discrimination that they encounter in the workplace. Exploitation can only thrive when the victim has internalized it as being their duty to endure, and surmount.

By the next election though, this disregard for issues and policies that impact severely on women could look at best like stupidity, and at worst, like arrogance. Last November, the Key government ignored a petition calling for it to take action on gender-based pay inequality. It could at least begin by showing that it takes the gender pay gap seriously, and that it has a plan to ensure New Zealand lives up to our local and international obligations on this issue. Here and elsewhere though, rich white men do tend to govern purely for the benefit of other rich white men.


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    1. 6 Responses to “On fresh evidence about the gender pay gap”

    2. By Kerry on Mar 9, 2010 | Reply

      Well said, Gordon.

      NZUSA have done research in the past on payrates for women graduates, and even quite recently, the figure was around 86% of the male wage, for substantially similar employment, upon graduation.

      The Tertiary Women’s Focus Group, a collective of all the Women’s Rights Officers, has been doing long-term research on employment outcomes for graduate women for most of the last decade.

      The Hon Pansy Wong doesn’t need to commission new research, she just needs to read and digest the actual research that is already available.
      Across many, varied, women-centred organisations who are publishing on this subject!

    3. By Andrew on Mar 9, 2010 | Reply

      There is two factors that seem to be missed in these studies that need to be included – if only to debunk them.
      The first is parental leave. If a woman who has two years experience takes one years parental leave, should they return to the workforce after that year at the same pay level as they left, or should they return at the pay level of their male counterparts who have worked that extra year?
      The second is around negotiation. As I understand it women are more likely to accept the first pay offer than men. That is, men are more likely to negotiate a better deal. And I guess the study refer to here could indicate that men are more likely to negotiate harder the further they get into their careers. From this point of view the only way to bridge the gender gap is to not allow pay negotiations!
      Happy to be shot down.

    4. By listening on Mar 9, 2010 | Reply

      i still want to see some proof that two people doing the same job are paid differently according to gender. In every job i have ever had the lady beside me was paid the same money i was. perhaps it is only the jobs where these things gets studied that suffer the inequality.

      how you are qualified is irrelevant to your pay debate unless it is the same job. if it is then there exist very clear laws to deal with it. please worry about our loss of freedom before worrying about the glass cieling of corrupt business

    5. By Jum on Mar 22, 2010 | Reply

      These decisions are affecting women’s lives. Yet these men are playing politics. Like it’s all a game.

      The end goal for National Act has always been to remove women from the workforce and get them back into the home, thereby reducing the costs around care.

      I think it’s time we had a women’s party.

    6. By Oh no- I have no weeny! on Mar 22, 2010 | Reply

      National wants to cut its Tax base? Really.

      Politics is a corporate game called “the shadow of big business” .
      Who is represented when the lobbyist run the show?

      Gender, sexuality, race and social class are always open targets in volatile times.(Look out for them at a store near you)
      Encouraging people to misdirect their feelings of fear, frustration, lack of control and anger – fighting amongst ourselves- that is what ‘National’ would like.

      I don’t think we need the separatist ideology.

    7. By Jum on Mar 22, 2010 | Reply

      National/Act is quite happy if women are in the low-paid part time service jobs – they’re still paying tax, in keeping with NAct’s cheap desperate labour.

      I assume, then, you also railed against the Maori Party, the United Future Party with religious content, the Destiny Party that allows no women leaders?

      Please explain the people comprising ‘ourselves’.

      There is nothing separatist about women who have defined goals that the major parties don’t seem to be quite so keen on pursuing on their behalf, although Labour does have a strong female component and they had been working on pay equity albeit slowly, before National dumped it and replaced it with Humpty Dumpty who talks about everything else but.

      I’m sure Labour and Progressives would be happy to link up with a party that actually does more than pay lip service to women.

      I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why a man in WINZ doing the same job as a woman in WINZ is paid more, 9% more.

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