Less than 24 hours after a landmark decision to settle an equal pay case for caregivers, National announced its intention to pass a law that would make future pay equity claims much less likely to succeed.
Whereas the law does provide a legal framework for claimants to take pay claims to their employers without having to go to court, it also restricts the number of “comparator” roles that can be used to determine the correct level of pay.
This will weaken the Equal Pay Act and could deter women from making claims to achieve genuine pay equity.
Under the proposed law, employers would have to ensure that pay rates and working conditions do not discriminate on the basis of gender between employees who perform the same or substantially the same work.
However, to assess whether women in predominantly female jobs are paid equally, it is necessary to consider appropriate male comparators.
This means identifying jobs to which a similar value can be attributed using gender neutral criteria. The equal pay rate should be then set to the same rate as the comparators’ pay if the assessment shows the jobs to be of equal value.
Rather than allow women to consider the most appropriate comparator or comparators for their particular role, the proposed law would restrict how comparators can be chosen and agreed.
This is at odds with the existing Equal Pay Act and the Court of Appeal Judgement that laid the ground for last week’s pay settlement for caregivers and support workers.
Had the restrictions proposed in the new law been in place when the caregivers’ claim was made, the same settlement may not have been reached.
Under the proposed new law women wanting to make a pay equity claim will be forced into pre-negotiations to agree on specific comparator roles, before mediation can begin.
Women making a claim will also need to find a comparator within their employer’s business. Only if none exist, can a claimant look for a comparator in similar businesses. If none of those exist, they must look for an appropriate comparator in the same industry or sector.
Women will only be permitted to select comparators from a different industry or sector if none have been found after each of these options has been exhausted.
“National has shown a disregard for what pay equity actually means,” Suzanne McNabb, TEU’s national women’s officer, said.
“Pay equity means equal pay for work of equal value. To achieve this, women need to have the option to consider work undertaken predominately by males that is suitable for their particular role. Restricting the options available will simply enshrine into law discriminatory wage rates for thousands of women.”
National appears intent on introducing the new law to Parliament as soon as possible, curtailing consultation on the draft to only three weeks.
Comments must be submitted to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Hīkina Whakatutuki before 11 May.