Lesley Harry, industrial advisor for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says it tabled a pay equity claim on behalf of its DHB-employed nurse, midwife and health care assistant members at the start of negotiations with the 20 DHBs for a new MECA collective agreement

Harry said it did not expect to resolve pay equity during the MECA talks but wanted to take the opportunity provided by the DHB negotiations to initiate a claim and start a pay equity claim process that could continue after the new MECA was settled.

“Obviously we will need to do some robust research to support any arguments,” said Harry.  Including researching suitable occupations to use as comparators for the skills and experience required by the female-dominated nursing and midwifery professions.

Kevin McFadgen, the DHBs lead advocate for the MECA negotiations, said there had been no chance for a decent discussion on the pay equity claim in the two days of talks so far, so he could offer no further comment.

Harry said the NZNO had put its intent to pursue a pay equity claim for its DHB members in writing to the Council of Trade Unions who then inform the State Services Commission.  NZNO was currently only seeking pay equity on behalf of its DHB members as the claim was initiated as part of the DHB bargaining process.  “We (NZNO) will be applying other strategies for each of our sectors,” said Harry.

The TerraNova pay equity claim lead to the historic $2 billion settlement that from July 1 will see 55,000 care and support workers in the residential care and home support sectors getting legislated pay increases staged over the next four years. That would result in some experienced, qualified caregivers getting the same or even more than experienced enrolled nurses or new graduate registered nurses working in the residential aged care sector.  (see other story)

Harry said the pay settlement affected pay relativity for all its members but would immediately affect the DHB-employed HCAs.

She said she couldn’t speak on behalf of her industrial advisor colleagues in other sectors but there would be a plan, including for nurses in the residential aged care sector. “It may very well be easier to negotiate directly through their bargaining process for those groups (residential aged care) given that they will be working side by side with caregivers. So there will be a significant need for the private aged care sector to address those anomalies that will arise.”

Draft Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill

The draft bill is in response to the successful TerraNova pay equity court case and resulting $2 billion settlement. The parties to the historic settlement agreed it wouldn’t be used as a precedent for other claims. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the government recognises there are other female-dominated occupational groups with pay equity claims needing to be addressed and that led to the new legislation. The bill aims to set up a bargaining framework rather than court-based process for lodging and progressing pay equity claims.

The MBIE site* describes the framework for the settlement of pay equity claims as broadly involving the following features:

  • Any employee may raise a pay equity claim with their employer.
  • Upon receiving a claim, the employer must assess and determine the merit of the claim based on factors set out in the Bill. The employer’s decision to refuse a claim can be challenged.
  • If the employer accepts that the claim has merit as a pay equity claim, the parties must enter into pay equity bargaining:
  • Bargaining is guided by principles on how the work is assessed in pay equity bargaining. This involves an assessment of the work and the work of suitable comparator occupations.
  • The parties may agree to a bargained outcome at any point.
  • Where bargaining reaches an impasse, the parties may access mediation or facilitation or determination by the Employment Relations Authority.

A pay equity claim is said to have merit if:

  • it is work that is predominantly performed by female employees
  • there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work has been historically undervalued (including that the nature of work requires the employee to use “skills or qualities that have been generally associated with women”)
  • there are reasonable grounds to believe that the work continues to be subject to systemic gender-based undervaluation.

The Bill amends the Employment Relations Act 2000, and repeals and replaces the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960. Submissions on the draft bill closed on May 11.

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