Equal Pay – back in the news but for all the wrong reasons

So why is Daughter Water important? Well, all other efforts to achieve equal pay in the past 30 years have failed dismally – so let’s think outside the square.

If you had thought we were moving towards equal pay then the University of Melbourne’s Labour Market Survey of November 2014 by Jeff Borland spectacularly demonstrates that improvements in decreasing the gender pay gap plateaued in the 1970s. There is no doubt that equal pay is not a reality – and Jeff Borland’s “forensic precision” demonstrates that.

There may be an upside however – a very small upside, but nonetheless an upside.

Borland focuses on hourly minimum wages, ordinary time earnings and share of total hours worked. That is a part of the story and an important one – but it is only a part.

Some work that I did with colleagues back in 1990s examined issues apart from hourly rates. When the New Zealand collective bargaining system was decentralising (deconstructing the award system and turning that to enterprise level bargaining or individual employment contracts) we noted that men with tattoos* were able to break free (upwardly) of the constraints of the historical wage relativity system and that industries and occupations where women were concentrated lost some of the relative wage gains they had made over the previous decade under various equal pay initiatives.

Union officials at that time advised me that their members (notably those concentrated in areas of high female employment) had specifically agreed to give up larger wage increases as a trade-off for enhanced leave. This reflected the reality of their domestic situations and the need for greater flexibility in attending to the care of children, aged parents etc. To that extent, women in individual and collective bargaining may have pre-dated the trends of the millennials – who are regularly noted now to be trading off job security and wages for extended periods of leave.

Notwithstanding this, pay equity struggles, as Borland says, with the difficulty of implementing the principle of “equal pay for work of equal value” in female dominated occupations. As in Australia the “long and slowing road to gender pay equity” has stalled too in NZ.

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