The Australians are beating us in pay equality. Why?

This article was published in Stuff.

Written by Cathy Hendry.

New Zealanders like to tie ourselves in knots when the Aussies beat us in sport. But a recent loss to Australia has gone relatively unnoticed.

This month the Albanese Government introduced legislation into the Australian parliament that would require businesses with more than 100 staff to report their pay gaps. This is in an effort to reduce the gap between men and women’s pay in Australia.

The prime minister was quoted as saying that “women should be paid the same as men – it’s as simple as that”.

And yet we are not. But at least Australia is trying to introduce a bill to try and fix that. New Zealand has fallen behind.

There’s been a lot of talk about the pay gap over the past year as I have watched the MindTheGap campaign work hard at trying to convince the New Zealand Government to do the same.

By the end of 2022, it had referred the concept to a committee.

But Australia has beaten us, and I wonder why.

I have been told by some that men earning more than women is logical. Men, I am told, are drawn to the bigger-paying jobs, while women, I am told, prefer the lower-paid flexible ones.

That’s because, people tell me, men still consider themselves to be the main breadwinners and women are definitely still carrying the load of main caregiver, whether they’re in paid full-time or part-time work.

It seems nowadays that teaching and nursing is women’s work, and because of that the pay is pretty bad.

I’ve been studying the concept of pay for some time, and I can tell you that when teaching was a male-dominated profession it was rather well paid. As soon as more women became teachers the pay increases stopped.

Same thing for bank tellers. Once the realm of males, they picked up a tidy cheque as the main income earner. Then women started dominating the bank’s frontline and voila, the pay increases ground to a halt.

There are some quiet murmurings from male quarters that if we reduce the pay gaps, their pay will reduce with it. But you can’t take pay away from people. To be fair, in some cases it could mean that male staff’s income may not accelerate at the same rate, but it won’t go down.

The way many businesses are trying to reduce pay gaps is to make sure women are considered for the higher paying jobs, and creating better flexibility in the workplace so they can take the big jobs and still manage their childcare.

And surely if women earn more, then ultimately the whole household is better off – and may be it even takes the pressure off men to be the main breadwinner.

It makes perfect sense when there are skill shortages to accommodate and reward all your staff whether they’re male, female, Māori, Pasifika or from another ethnic group. So why is the pay gap persisting?

If the pressure is off the man to be the main breadwinner, then maybe they might be more inclined to follow their heart and move into a lower-paid industry – thereby also reducing the pay gap by evening out earnings.

Alternatively, if more financial worth was put on the lower-paid jobs, we might have more male nurses and teachers.

And surely no man can complain that their partner is contributing more to their retirement fund by earning more each year.

Not all is lost to the Aussies though, New Zealand could easily trump them if we work at reducing the pay gap not just for women, but for Māori, Pasifika and other ethnic groups too.

That’d not only beat them, it would be a world first.

We should all be paid the same, shouldn’t we? As Anthony Albanese just said: “It’s as simple as that.”

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