Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse has leapt to the defence of the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill, which has received much criticism from unions as it makes its way through Parliament.

The bill is supposed to provide a practical and fair process for employees to follow if they feel they are not being paid what their job is worth. It will allow employees to file pay equity claims directly with their employers rather than having to go through the courts.

However, the bill has been criticised for including unnecessary hurdles for those seeking equal pay, such as mental health support workers and teaching support staff.

E tū Assistant National Secretary, John Ryall says the bill is so bad the union would have to nullify the case E tū and the PSA have taken to the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of mental health support workers who aren’t covered by the Equal Pay Settlement.

“The bill means they would have to start again through a long and complex process to prove they have a pay equity case, and secondly to find appropriate comparators to make their case,” says Ryall.

“This bill is incompatible with the principles and processes agreed by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity, and inconsistent with the Court of Appeal ruling in Bartlett v Terranova, which resulted in the Equal Pay Settlement.”

Teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart agreed.

“These additional hoops will make an already lengthy process to draw out even further, and will actively put women off making pay equity claims,” said Stuart.

However, Minister Woodhouse rejected claims that the bill will make it harder to settle pay equity claims.

“The Government shares the desire of Kristine Bartlett and the unions to get this important piece of legislation right,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“We don’t, however, agree with the Union’s assessment of what this Bill will do.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Woodhouse says the new legislation, if passed, will make New Zealand’s law more progressive than other countries.

“There will be an opportunity for the public to have their say on the Bill during the select committee process and we will be listening carefully to those submissions.”

The bill will repeal and replace the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960, and amend the Employment Relations Act 2000.

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