Pay Equity Not The Answer

Published: Mon 13 Oct 2003 05:29 PM
Pay Equity Not The Answer
Monday 13 Oct 2003 Heather Roy Speeches -- Other
Address to the Bright Star Sixth Annual Remuneration Conference, Museum Hotel, Wellington.
When talking about Pay Equity, it is very important to define the topic. I'm sure everyone here is well aware of the difference between pay equality and pay equity, but when I speak to most people about equity they automatically assume I mean equal pay for equal work. Pay equity, of course, is equal pay for work deemed to be of equal value.
New Zealand women have enjoyed pay equality since 1972. The Women's Affairs Ministry sometimes tries to claim this as its achievement - but, as it didn't exist until 1984, this isn't the case.
Most recently, the topic of pay equity has been on the Government's agenda again, making this discussion very timely. ACT is opposed to pay equity for many reasons, but the main reason is because we are opposed to all social engineering. Equal pay for work that is deemed to be of equal value. Who should decide?
How can we ever claim that that jobs of different types are of equal value? The example commonly used is that of nurses and police. Pay equity proponents choose to ignore the fact than many police are now women, and that nursing is a career choice for men as well as women. Social engineering of this kind will not achieve a better existence for women.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Women's Affairs released a discussion document calling for submissions. It was called Towards an Action Plan for Women and among the introductory remarks was this particularly condescending statement - "Today, women are participating in many aspects of New Zealand life". I am certain that it will come as no small surprise to many New Zealand women who, contrary to what they may believe, had not actually been participating in New Zealand life previously.
At the end of September, Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey released the Work Trends report - a publication to tell New Zealanders how well we are doing in the work stakes. It states that women's wages increased 17 percent from 1997, while men's increased only 12 percent - and, from 1997-2002, women's employment grew faster than that of men's. Latest OECD figures show that women have overtaken men at every level of education in developed countries. As a result, women's wages are catching up. The Minister himself admits that working is an individual's choice, and has said, "women's employment patterns have become more like the traditional model of male employment". So, where is the problem?
What the Government forgets - or ignores - is that many women choose to work part-time, to fit in with family life. While this trend continues, women's average wages - the measure used to compare the amounts men and women earn - will always be slightly lower.
One of the main determinants of anyone's pay is time spent in the workforce. We know that increased female participation in the workforce is comparatively recent and, as a result, women on average have spent less time in the workforce than men. If the average figures quoted when comparing male and female incomes were corrected for this difference, researchers would find that the pay gap is hugely reduced and in some areas has been reversed. I wonder if the Ministry of Women's Affairs will seek to increase the wages of these poor men who are lagging behind, in the interests of fairness.
Sadly, I think this will not be the case. No wonder Garry McCormack is campaigning for a Ministry of Men's Affairs - not that I am advocating that this should be the case. US studies show that qualified black women are paid more than white men with the same qualifications because they are more scarce. In New Zealand, unskilled young women have been paid more than unskilled young men for some time. The reason? There is no difference in their time in the workforce and because, as a society (and some would say a `sexist society'), we better prepare our women for work in the service economy because they smile more, are better-dressed and generally more congenial and articulate.
I would like to come back to the concept of choice - people choose what they do for a living. Some people choose not to work at all and actively avoid work, but for most workers choices exist. I mentioned before that many women choose to work part-time to fit in with family life. Some families choose to have Dad at home looking after the children, usually because Mum can earn more. When my children were small, I belonged to a playgroup where one of the parents was a Dad. He was a bit of a novelty and made a mean morning tea, but for his family this was the arrangement that worked. People have choices and, when allowed to exercise them freely, find the balance that suits them best.
The Government has said it will begin by reducing inequalities that exist in the public sector. Pay equity is apparently necessary to equalise the discrepancies that exist between pay for men and women. If nurses and teachers are underpaid, why has Labour not addressed this directly? It could increase the pay for both groups if it so wished. And whose opinion will be sought as to "relativity"? The arguments about who deserves more will be endless.
Finally, let me end by saying that it is becoming increasingly clear to any observer that it is our boys who are struggling in school and beyond. The Government campaigns for pay equity, to make things better for New Zealand women, but it is clearly our young males who are falling behind in many aspects of life and need help. As for the girls - well Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox said it all - `Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves'. It's time for the Government to butt out and let us women get on with it.
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