Update: For those without high or even medium-speed broadband, the Hansard is below:
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: In light of his comment that “New Zealand is to be congratulated because, at least in terms of the gender pay gap, ours is the third lowest in the OECD”, does that mean he is satisfied with the 10.6 percent gap between men’s and women’s pay in our country?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: No. Of course, it means there is more change to occur, but New Zealand is in a better position on an international comparison than most other OECD countries.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that a claim against an employer for pay discrimination on the grounds of gender cannot be made unless the claimant has information to prove that she has been discriminated against; if so, how does he suggest this information be gathered?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am aware of that debate, and I understand there is a proposition to introduce a member’s bill into the House to resolve it, which, of course, will be a waste of time, because the Labour Party is filibustering all members’ days, and that bill will never be debated.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I asked a pretty straightforward question. To flick off at the Labour Party about some other debate hardly satisfies as an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: What the Minister said in his answer was that he was aware of this issue and the debate on this issue. He did not offer any answer himself. The member had asked whether he could explain how such a person could obtain the information, and the Minister was unable to explain how the person would get the information, but he did say that a member’s bill was to be introduced to address that. That was an answer to the question.
Hon Annette King: Does he believe that privacy issues override the rights of women to receive equal pay for equal work; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We in Government are always, as the member will know, balancing personal privacy issues with the requirements of achieving the public good. In the case of pay equity, it is simply not legal to pay people different amounts based on their gender. There is the opportunity for individuals or the courts to enforce what has been the law of Parliament for several decades.
Hon Annette King: If privacy issues can be mitigated, as suggested by the Human Rights Commission, will National support legislation that would require employers to report on gender pay rates in their workplace, and release aggregated information on gender to employees on request?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If someone proposed legislation of that sort, then we would consider it. But it looks as though it would be a very low priority for the Labour Party, because it is spending most of the year on the Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill, which is taking up all of the members’ time available to Parliament.
Metiria Turei: I seek the leave of the House to have the pay equity member’s bill in the name of Catherine Delahunty set down for first reading on the next sitting day.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with Elizabeth Bang from the National Council of Women, who said that people should be able to ask whether there is a disparity in pay between people who work in similar positions, and that there should be transparency; if so, how does he intend that his Government will make it happen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is yet to see the detail and be persuaded of the merits of the case. But I might point out that significant progress is being made. The measure of the gender pay gap shows that it has dropped from 13 percent in 2008 to 10.6 percent in 2010. In fact, it has reduced more quickly over the last 3 years than at any other time since it has been measured.
Hon Annette King: Given that he said earlier in the week that he does not know whether women are being paid differently because of their gender, will he listen to the growing chorus of leading New Zealand women, from the former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley to Janet Tuck, Cathy Quinn, Mai Chen, and Dr Judy McGregor to name just a few, who are telling the Government that there is a gap and it ought to do something about it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course the Government will listen to anyone who articulates an interesting and challenging point of view. The fact is there are many causes for the gap in pay, and it has been improving at a faster rate in the last 3 years than at any time in the last 15 years.
Carol Beaumont: Does the fact that only a handful of equal pay cases have been taken in the last 30 years under either the Equal Pay Act or the Human Rights Act show that there is no issue with women being paid differently because of gender, or that the existing legislation is not adequate to deal with the problem?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is also possible that employers and employees follow the law, and the law says that someone cannot be paid differently based on their gender.
Carol Beaumont: When he is looking closely at the gender pay gap of 27.5 percent in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, will he also look closely at the gender pay gaps of other Government departments, which based on the report of Dr Judy McGregor include a gap of 29 percent in Treasury, 30.65 percent in education, and 26.09 percent in the Crown Law Office, or will he put that down to “different people are doing different jobs, it is not an issue of gender; it is an issue of the jobs they perform.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I certainly agree with the second statement. If there is evidence of pay discrimination in Government departments, then the Government as an employer has to comply with the law. We would expect to take action to deal with any pay discrimination.