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Equality at work is improving but at a glacial pace - HRC

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Women continue to feature in negative labour market indicators according to a new report from the Human Rights Commission.

Groups that are particularly marginalised include young Māori and Pasifika women and young Pasifika men.

The bi-annual Tracking Equality at Work 2018 report and web-based interactive tool released today by the Human Rights Commission measures equality at work based on employment, pay, leadership and discrimination statistics sourced from Stats NZ and other Government departments.

Overall, women are still being paid less than men, regardless of their ethnic group.

According to Tracking Equality at Work, the gender pay gap is at an all-time low of 9.4% but the pace of change is slow; it could be another 40 years before the pay gap is finally closed.

Women make up 67% of minimum wage earners over 25 years. The 2017 pay equity settlement for carers will be reflected in 2018 data and is expected to lift a significant number of women above the minimum wage.

Women also have a higher rate of unemployment than men (5.1% compared to 4%) and, specifically, young Māori and Pacific women figure prominently in the NEET (Not in education, employment or training) group. High unemployment rates are noticeable in Māori women, Pacific men and women under 25 years of age.

Māori and Pacific women under 25 years have a high NEET rate of 22.5% - more than double the rate of all people under 25. The NEET rate for Māori women between 20 and 24 has improved slightly but remains high at 34%. Pacific people have the lowest labour force participation of all ethnic groups at 66% compared with 70.6% for all people. Young disabled people also feature prominently in the NEET category. At the end of June 2017, 42.3% of disabled youth aged 15-24 were not in education, employment or training - more than four times the rate of non-disabled youth. Disabled people had negative statistics across all labour metrics - from low participation in the labour force to low average weekly incomes - around half of that of non-disabled people.

The Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner, Dr Jackie Blue, said that while the gender gap was narrowing, overall equality for women in the workforce was moving ahead too slowly.

"Despite the recent focus on women in leadership roles, the number of women senior managers actually decreased one percent between our last report in 2015 and 2017. We have slid to 33rd out of 35 countries surveyed on women in leadership by the Grant Thornton consultancy firm.

"Women are doing slightly better from a board director point of view with an increase to 19% representation on New Zealand Boards compared to 17% in 2015. However, if we continue to improve at this pace, equality on Boards will be reached in 2037 - another 19 years."

Dr Blue said that from any point of view - wages, leadership, and employment - equality for women, ethnic groups and disabled people was either improving at glacial speeds or not improving at all.

"Much more is needed to improve employment opportunities for all ethnic groups and disabled people, to increase pay rates for women, and to raise women’s representation in senior leadership roles."

The EEO Commissioner has therefore recommended the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) increase the number of places available in successful employment and apprenticeship schemes for young Māori and Pacific peoples who are not in employment, education or training. The Commission also called on MBIE to introduce specific education and employment programmes for the young disabled people who are NEET.

Dr Blue called on the Government to implement new pay equity legislation as soon as possible although she welcomed, as a way forward for the Public Service, the Gender Pay Principles announced by the Minister for Women earlier this week. She also called on the Government to enact legislation that will require companies with more than 100 staff to publicly and annually report on their gender pay, bonus gaps and other EEO metrics.

To ensure there are more women and other under-represented groups in senior management, Dr Blue said the Government can and should take the lead by applying special measures and implementing targets in the state sector.

"Women face such unconscious bias when senior roles are being filled. I made this point recently when the State Services Commissioner appointed five men to chief executive positions without considering other candidates. Unless women are intentionally included, they will be unintentionally excluded. So, it is time to have a target requiring women account for 50% of senior leaders in the state sector.

"There are other things the Government can do: Ministers responsible for making board appointments can ensure they appoint from a diverse pool of candidates. The Government could also make sure high-quality child care is available so that mothers can continue in the workforce and progress to senior roles."

One area that had seen some improvement in equality was in the House of Representatives. In 2017 the highest number of women were voted into Parliament and accounted for 38% of MPs. Maori MPs account for 22.5% - the highest proportion ever; Pasifika MPs account for 7% and Asian for 6%, up three points. In the 2016 local body elections the proportion of women elected rose to 38% from 33% in the 2013 elections.

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