Labour women's policy raises issue of pay equity

Men in low-paid work were equally affected by pay equity issues as women in the same position, Service and Food Workers Union spokeswoman Jill Ovens said yesterday.

Many union and other organisations responded to the release yesterday of the Labour Party women's policy, entitled "Real Equality, Real Opportunity and Real Choice for all Women".

Ms Ovens said, for women workers struggling to keep their heads above water, the single most important issue was low pay.

The majority of the union's 23,000 workers were low-paid women who struggled to survive.

The union represented cleaners, caregivers in aged care, support workers, laundry workers and hospital service staff, she said.

When contacted by the Otago Daily Times, Ms Ovens confirmed there were also many men who were members of the union and, like the women members, they also struggled on low pay.

"The issue is about pay equity, not about individual people."

The problem was that men working in an industry with a predominance of women workers were also held back by low pay.

"We have male caregivers in aged care but, because most of the people in aged care are women, the work is undervalued in respect to pay equity."

The union had been phoning members as part of its election strategy and was surprised by how many couples were members of the union. Sometimes, children in the family were also signed up as members.

All of those people were struggling to feed their families. The union was in favour of lifting the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Ms Ovens said.

Green Party women's affairs spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said there was much to celebrate on Suffrage Day, but there was still a long way to go before New Zealand women enjoyed true equality.

"Major inequalities remain between men and women in terms of pay and representation.

Women still earn on average 12% less per hour than men."

However, a party official confirmed co-leader Mrs Metiria Turei received the same pay as her male co-leader Russel Norman.

Labour women's affairs spokeswoman Carol Beaumont said Labour would work to have the right to equal pay better recognised by law and ensure information about pay rates was made available so comparisons could be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women were revealed.

Labour would also consider the introduction of a requirement that job vacancies had a minimum start rate advertised.

As earlier indicated, Labour would lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"Kiwi women deserve better and Labour will deliver on the promise it is making to improve the lives of all our women," Ms Beaumont said.

Otago-Southland Employers' Association chief executive John Scandrett said the association had always upheld the fundamental values concerning equality of all in the workplace.

"The central guiding principle our members are urged to follow is based on all staff being treated as individuals with fairness. At all times we uphold the basic rights of employers to hire who is best suited and qualified for a position.

"Beside those rights, the non-negotiable elements covering equal pay for work of equal value and equal opportunity for all in the workplace are fully recognised," he said.

That stance included respect for all individuals' personal and family circumstances, as well as recognising the need for treating all not only with fairness but also with dignity and respect.

In that context, the association supported any new policies that backed up its values, Mr Scandrett said.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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