Equal pay tsunami surges forward

Kristine Bartlett and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman signing the aged care pay equity agreement. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

As another industry joins the pay equity queue, the campaign to close the gender pay gap is pushing forward. Where to next for the movement, and what is the best way to solve the situation?

Havelock North High teacher Lisa Hargreaves knew she was being treated differently than her full-time peers, but for years felt powerless to do anything about it.

Working part-time, Hargreaves – who has been teaching for about 11 years – is ineligible for paid non-contact time, the time spent preparing for lessons.

Teachers who spend 20 hours in the classroom a week are eligible for five paid non-contact hours, while those working under 18 hours are not guaranteed non-contact time in the timetable.

In the first few years in her role, Hargreaves said she raised the pay difference but got nowhere.

“I asked them [the school] about that and the principal at the time said we don’t do that, I battled intermittently for a couple of years, I thought ‘how could this be right?’

“I even wrote letters to the PPTA newsletter, anonymously of course.”

Now Hargreaves is fronting up alongside three other colleagues as the face of a case for pay equity, lodged by the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) at the Employment Relations Authority.

The case will trigger a pay equity claim for almost 3400 part-time teachers, who are predominantly female.

It comes as a $2 billion pay equity settlement for the aged care sector takes effect, following a historic victory by the E tu union and worker Kristine Bartlett.

That settlement, which will see workers earning an extra 15 to 50 percent, has triggered a string of similar claims from other female-dominated industries.

Mental Health Workers lodged a claim last month, while school support staff are negotiating with the Ministry of Health.

Social workers and education support workers are also in talks, while the New Zealand Nurses Organisation has filed a pay equity claim with DHBs as part of collective bargaining.

To deal with future claims, the Government has drafted the Pay Equity Bill, which focuses on comparing wages in similar workplaces rather than across the board.

Unions immediately raised concerns about the legislation, criticising its narrow focus, but that has not stopped new claims being lodged.

PPTA claim

On the face of it, the claim on behalf of part-time teachers is one of wanting to be paid the same as their full-time peers, who earn an average of $77,474, rather than the opposite sex.

The split between full-time teachers is reasonably even; 57 percent are female.

But almost three-quarters of part-time teachers are women and Jack Boyle, president of the PPTA, said this percentage had been rising.

“They’ve been shafted, to be quite honest with you.”

Despite the pay loading, part-time teachers earned about 12 percent less on average for every hour worked, which ironically was about the gender pay gap in New Zealand.

The union had been trying for 16 years to get the Ministry of Education to address the issue, but had been “laughed out of the building”.

With equal pay in the media, it was now a good time to lodge a claim and enter into mediation.

“It really helps, the question of gender equity is zeitgeist at the moment with what happened with the Terranova and Kristine Bartlett case, because in Aotearoa there seems to be a real understanding that having gender equity still not being addressed is an abomination.”

In response, the Ministry’s early learning and student achievement deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid said non-contact time for part-time teachers was not an appropriate matter for consideration under terms agreed by a joint working group.

In 2008 the issue had been referred to collective bargaining as a potential gender equity issue, but subsequent agreed settlements had not been able to reach a resolution.

The Ministry was considering the PPTA’s latest claim, she said.

“A bit of a mess”

Social license has been a buzz phrase in the past few years, and pay equity seems to have it in spades.

There is a growing groundswell of support for addressing the pay gap, as improved data collection spells out exactly how large, and widespread, it is.

Eric Crampton, chief economist at the New Zealand Institute, said the pay equity framework would likely result in hundreds of millions of dollars in extra public spending leaving the Government “stuck with a bit of a mess”.

To mitigate this, it could be tempted to restrict the terms of agreements to more highly skilled members of each profession, with NZIE president Lynda Stuart already publicly stating that any settlement for teacher aides would be tied to their taking on more systematic training.

This, however, seemed like the opposite of good practice that would encourage credential inflation as a way of bumping into a higher pay bracket, she said.

“If the Ministry of Education needs more highly skilled teacher aides, it should be advertising for more highly skilled teacher aides and offering the salaries necessary to attract them.

“Auckland’s shortage of teachers at current offered salary levels seems reason enough for changing current salary structures. Processes trying to benchmark teaching against other professions seem an awful lot more expensive, and less useful, than simply looking out of the window, noticing shortages at current wages, and adjusting.”