Today marks the centenary of International Women’s Day. In the last century women have struggled for and achieved much in New Zealand. We have often led the way in terms of women’s rights and this is worthy of celebration.
Originally tabled as an idea by Clara Zetkin a German socialist in 1910, International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women. This tragedy drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events. The date was shifted to 8 March in 1913 and has since been celebrated on that date.
The focus on working conditions and labour laws is still very relevant for women in NZ and globally. The ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) representing 176 million workers in 151 countries and territories today launched a report highlighting how women are still second class citizens at work.
The concentration of women in low paid and precarious work is still an issue in New Zealand. There is clear evidence that the work of many women is undervalued. The consequences of the persistent gender pay gap are huge and are both immediate and long term. Women and their families have less income than they should to make ends meet and women over their lifetime are underpaid to a significant level which means they are able to save less for their retirement.
Low pay and pay inequity are serious matters and the consequences are particularly severe in tough economic times where families are struggling with ever rising prices, job losses and static or reducing incomes. The need for Government action is compelling.
On the centenary of International Women’s Day the National Government’s track record on the issue of pay equity is a sorry one. That record— disestablishing the Pay Equity Unit, halting or failing to act on Pay and Employment Equity investigations, lifting the minimum wage by a cynically small amount, and crowing about closing the gender pay gap at a time of falling wages— is costing women all over New Zealand.
These actions are in a context of backtracking on basic rights at work. We have seen attacks on holidays, on meal and rest breaks and on rights to organise in unions. We are seeing women sacked without recourse, women who too often have broken work histories and face periods of time with no rights in regard to unfair dismissal.
Today along with all my Labour women colleagues I signed the Pay and Employment Equity Pledge at Parliament urging the Government to reassess its strategy and develop a plan to close the pay gap in New Zealand. Now that would be a good way to celebrate International Women’s Day!
Along with other speakers at the event at Parliament today I acknowledged the women of Christchurch. These women, in the face of terrible tragedy, are seeking to hold together their families and rebuild their lives. It is concerning to learn that the pressure facing the people of Christchurch is leading to an increase of domestic violence, a problem that still blights the lives of many women in New Zealand and globally.