Story: Women’s labour organisations

Page 5. Pay equity, 1980s–2020s

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The number of women in the labour market rose from 525,087 in 1981 to 1,158,711 in 2018. The range of jobs done by women expanded. Some became lawyers, doctors and company directors. Others became labourers, storepeople and couriers. But although a few women gained trade qualifications, there were still jobs typically done by women and other jobs done by men.

Pay equity in the 1980s

From the late 1970s, the pay gap between men and women stalled at just over 20%. Unions and women’s organisations tried a new approach: pay equity.

Pay equity was based on the assessment and comparison of jobs done by women with jobs done by men. It had the potential to resolve the historic undervaluing of work typically done by women and to avoid the problem caused for equal pay by men and women doing different kinds of work.

In the 1980s and 2000s, unions and other organisations pushed for pay equity. In 1990, a change of government resulted in the repeal of a recently passed pay equity act before any claims were assessed. In the 2000s, there was a focus on pay equity in the public sector. A new government elected in 2008 shut down a pay and employment equity office before any claims were assessed.

In the 2010s, unions and women’s organisations pushed again for pay equity. An Employment Court judgment in a successful test case taken by the Service and Food Workers Union made it clear that the Equal Pay Act 1972 included pay equity. Numerous pay equity claims for public sector or government-funded occupational groups were made, and by 2022 many women had benefited from settlements.

Pay equity claims settled by late 2022 included those for social workers at Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children and in community social service organisations, teacher aides, kaiarahi i te reo, administration staff in schools and kura, support workers in early childcare centres, and clerical and administrative workers in Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand. Claims for nurses, midwives, care and support workers, and teachers were among those that had not yet been settled.

Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay, 1986

The Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay (CEVEP) was set up by women’s groups and unions in 1986. The groups included those which had fought for working women’s rights in earlier decades – the FUW, BPW, NCW and YWCA. Prominent among the unions were the Clerical Workers’ Association (which funded a full-time pay-equity organiser), the Distribution Workers’ Union and the Nurses’ Association.

CEVEP, like CEPO before it, was an effective coalition, with both women’s groups and unions contributing to its campaigns. CEVEP’s Dunedin group, for example, included people from the local clerical workers’, post office and distribution unions, the Oamaru Woollen Workers’ Union, YWCA, BPW and the Disabled Persons’ Assembly.

From the 1990s, CEVEP went in and out of recess according to the state of the push for pay equity. By the 2010s, CEVEP’s role had shifted to a focus on policy and the provision of pay equity expertise rather than campaigning. A major focus was the retention of the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the case law associated with it. In the 2000s, CEVEP fought hard to persuade the government not to replace the 1972 Act. With the passing of the Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020, it went into recess again.

Pay Equity Challenge

Pay Equity Challenge (PEC) was set up in the late 2000s to take on the coalition and campaigning roles that had been fulfilled by CEPO from 1957 to 1972 and CEVEP from the 1980s to the 2000s. Like both those organisations, it had a mixed membership of women’s organisations and unions; members also included related organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Coalition.

PEC organised events around the country, made submissions to the government, provided campaign support to its member organisations, and kept reminding the media that the issue of pay equity had not gone away.

Mind the Gap

The Mind the Gap campaign was launched in 2021. Its primary focus was closing the gender pay gap. It was backed by unions, women’s groups and BusinessNZ. In early 2022 it launched its pay gap registry, inviting businesses to make the pay gap in their organisation public and offering help in working out what the gap was. It also supported research and undertook campaign activities such as petitioning Parliament.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Women’s labour organisations - Pay equity, 1980s–2020s ', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 Dec 2022