Story: Women’s labour organisations

Page 5. Women’s organisations after the Second World War

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An effect of women’s increased workforce participation was a broadening of the issues considered by labour organisations. Along with training or retraining for re-entry to the workforce, childcare and access to flexible or part-time hours of work became matters of concern. Older organisations like the National Council of Women and the Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs continued to be very active, and were joined by new groups.

National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women, 1967

Members of the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women (NACEW) were initially women’s organisations’ representatives and government officials. By the 1990s membership included the Council of Trade Unions, Business New Zealand, the State Services Commission, the Office of Youth Affairs, Te Puni Kōkiri (the Ministry of Māori Development) and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.

Working within government and contributing to the policy-making process, the council considered a broad range of issues to do with women and employment, including pay, choice and conditions of work, training, care of dependants, superannuation and parental leave. In 2009 NACEW’s focus was on pay equity, employment security, improving the position of Māori and Pacific Island women at work, and managing care of dependants.

To work or not to work


Working wives and mothers were a topic of heated debate in the 1950s. Some readers of the New Zealand Women’s Weekly strongly disapproved, writing letters about ‘this chirpy little sparrow who feels more secure in company’,1 motivated by greed for a new fridge or carpet, whose children soon realise whether ‘Mother works because she has to or because she likes to’.2 Despite opposition, the shift to working after marriage continued to gather momentum.


Women’s liberation movement, 1970 to 1980s

Women’s liberation movement groups demanded equal opportunity for working women. Their concerns included access to non-traditional and part-time work, the Working Women’s Charter, parental leave, retraining after time at home to care for children and prevention of sexual harassment.

Childcare, necessary for working mothers, and itself a source of work for women, was the focus of activism. Christchurch Women’s Liberation surveyed the city’s childcare centres, finding lengthy waiting lists and very low wages; Auckland-based Women for Equality held a childcare conference to discuss problems in the sector; Palmerston North Women’s Liberation set up a childcare action group to lobby the council for more centres. Feminists strongly supported the starting of the Early Childhood Workers’ Union, and a number set up their own childcare centres.

Many of the women’s liberation groups were relatively short-lived, but the women who had been in them often went on to take part in union or other organisations.

Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, 1992

The Equal Employment Opportunities Trust was set up by government in 1992 after it repealed the Employment Equity Act 1990. The trust was to address some of the issues raised by the pay-equity campaign through the promotion to employers of the business benefits of equal-employment opportunities (EEO). Its trustees were drawn from both the private and public sectors, and were predominantly women.

The trust’s focus included families, as well as disabled, older and migrant people. It developed EEO guidelines, worked with an EEO employers’ group to create versatile and successful workplaces, and funded surveys into diversity and work–life balance. A central element in the trust’s work was the voluntary nature of employer involvement.

New Horizons for Women Trust, 1992

The New Horizons for Women Trust was set up in 1992 by groups involved in campaigns around women and work. The trust provided awards to help with the cost of retraining. A number of the awards commemorated the work of labour activists, including Rita King, Ria McBride and Sonja Davies.

  1. New Zealand Women’s Weekly, 28 June 1956, p. 5. Back
  2. New Zealand Women’s Weekly, 5 July 1956, p 3. Back
How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Women’s labour organisations - Women’s organisations after the Second World War', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 September 2022)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 May 2011