Woodhouse rejects pay equity criticisms

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New Zealand’s workplace relations and safety minister has rebutted claims that the proposed pay equity bill will put additional barriers in place for women, insisting the legislation is an important step towards fair pay.

“The government shares the desire of Kristine Bartlett and the unions to get this important piece of legislation right,” said Michael Woodhouse. “We don’t, however, agree with the unions’ assessment of what this bill will do.”

A number of unions have been vocal in their opposition of the bill with NZEI Te Riu Roa’s president calling the legislation “a mean-spirited attempt” to limit women’s access to justice and fair pay.

“Voting for the bill to go to select committee to get straightened out is not good enough,”
she said. “It needs to be roundly rejected in order to send the message that women want progress on equal pay, not more stumbling blocks.”

Erin Polaczuk, national secretary of the PSA, also agreed and said the legislation was not about pay equity but rather trying to shut it down.

“The bill as it stands has cherry-picked the positive notes from the Joint Working Group’s recommendations and spun them alongside law changes that actually limit women’s ability to achieve pay free from discrimination,” she said.

“It’s completely incompatible with the actual recommendations of the JWG, and if it was already law, the care and support settlement for historically undervalued workers like Kristine Bartlett never could have come about.”

Michael Woodhouse, however, insisted the legislation was nothing of the sort and said the bill was actually drafted with the hope of making the claims process easier.

“The purpose of the bill is to avoid the adversarial court process that the parties in the Terranova case would have had to embark on had the government not intervened and negotiated a settlement,” he said.

“The good faith bargaining process that is proposed is exactly what the Terranova process involved and any suggestion that the settlement could not have been achieved if this bill was in law is simply incorrect,” he continued.

Woodhouse also said the Terranova settlement was reached with reference to a comparator within the health sector and the bill enables parties to look outside the sector if an appropriate comparator cannot be found.

“This will make New Zealand’s law more progressive than any other country we compare with,” he said, adding that there will be an opportunity for the public to have their say on the bill during the select committee process.

“We will be listening carefully to those submissions,” he added.

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