A new study reveals significant ethnic pay disparities within the top tiers of New Zealand’s core public sector and
district health boards.
New data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) shows a pattern of ethnic pay disparities across the public
sector, as well as a gap in employment policy rhetoric and practice.
There was disproportionately lower representation of Māori and Pacific peoples across all DHBs, compared to the national
population. And they were significantly less likely to earn more than $100,000.
“This failure to promote Māori and Pacific staff to the top tiers of the public sector is consistent with definitions of
institutional racism,” says Dr Heather Came, Head of the Public Health Department at Auckland University of Technology
“From this study, we now know that entire government departments have, at different times, had no senior Māori or
Pacific staff,” she says.
“This suggests that our public and health sectors do not have the benefit of Māori and Pacific expertise, even though
improved outcomes for these groups is often a government priority. The absence of this crucial and high-level input may
be contributing to the problems we continue to see in health, education and the justice system, for indigenous and
ethnic minority communities.”
, published in the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, aimed to identify the extent of ethnic pay disparities among senior management in the public sector.
Ethnic pay data was collected under OIA from 28 core public service departments
(CPSDs) and all 20 district health boards (DHBs). While the State Services Commission (SSC) publishes workforce data on
public service employees earning six figures or more, there is no breakdown by ethnicity.
Researchers analysed the total number of full-time equivalent staff by ethnicity (Māori, Pacific, or Other) focusing on
those who earned more than $100,000. The findings provide a snapshot of the ethnic pay gap at four points in time (2001,
2006, 2011, and 2016) over a 15-year period.Core Public Service Departments (CPSDs)
FTE staff from 2001-2016The proportion of Māori and Pacific CPSD staff mirrored the general population, with slightly higher representation of
the latter.The proportion of CPSD staff who identified as Māori decreased 4.9 percent (from 14.3 to 13.6 percent), while those who
identified as Pacific increased 64 percent (7.5 to 12.3 percent).In 2001, only 14 (of 26) CPSDs had Māori staff who earned more than $100,000, which increased to 21 in 2006, 23 in 2011,
and 26 in 2016.In 2001, only four (of 26) CPSDs had Pacific staff who earned more than $100,000, which increased to 9 in 2006 and 18 in
2011, and reduced to 16 in 2016.District Health Boards (DHBs)
FTE staff from 2001-2016
· There was disproportionately lower representation of Māori and Pacific peoples across DHBs, compared to the national
· While the proportion of Māori and Pacific staff at DHBs earning more than $100,000 increased (from 0.5 to 2.7 percent
and 0.5 to 1.4 percent, respectively), the ethnic pay gap remained consistently high.
· On average, Māori and Pacific staff at DHBs were significantly less likely to earn more than $100,000, (56 and 71
times, respectively) compared to the Other ethnic group.
The key recommendations of the study include improved government data collection on ethnic pay gaps and a review of
human resources (HR) practices within the public sector.
New Zealand has had equal-pay and anti-discrimination legislation for decades. From 1988, all state sector chief
executives were required to be good employers and have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) programme. It has been
argued that the scheme’s initial success was dependent on monitoring and enforcement, which was eroded by the major
state sector reforms of the 1990s.
Dr Came says, improved ethnicity data collection is critical if we are to implement EEO policies. It is also necessary
to enable analysis of progress towards the desired outcomes.
“While this study provides some important new quantitative data, we also need more qualitative research about ethnic pay
disparities. We need to look at why HR teams persist in not recruiting or promoting Māori and Pacific staff to senior
roles,” she says.
“Furthermore, we need to understand from Māori and Pacific peoples why they are not necessarily putting themselves
forward. Is it a matter of cultural safety or an absence of the appropriate skills and expertise?”
Higher education is a critical pathway into employment within the public sector, particularly for senior roles. Ensuring
that Māori and Pacific peoples leave university with academic qualifications that enable them to be recruited to senior
roles is part of the solution.
“We need to acknowledge and address everyday racism within Crown institutions. A system change approach is the most
promising option, given that we know ad hoc diversity programmes are ineffective. Let’s name institutional racism and
engage with this systemic challenge,” says Dr Came.