Pay equity bill puts teachers’ case at risk - PPTA

A provision in the Government’s equal pay legislation could significantly delay an active pay equity claim affecting 3500 teachers.

The PPTA says the transitional provision in the Government’s Equal Pay Amendment Bill could block the union's ongoing equal pay case, forcing them to go back to square one after 16 years and about $400,000.

The transitional clause in the bill, which is currently before the select committee, would discontinue active claims.

The PPTA is pushing back against the clause, and last week told the select committee most of the proposed law was great, but that provision needed to be changed to stop those with active cases having to re-lodge claims under the new legislation.

About 3500 part-time secondary school teachers earn 12 percent less per hour than their full-time peers.

The pay gap was due to a salary condition, which meant part-time secondary teachers were not paid for their non-contact time – time used for planning lessons.

Of the affected teachers, 75 percent are women.

‘A kick in the guts’

Lisa Hargreaves is one of four named plaintiffs in the equal pay case, which is due to be heard by the employment court in May, after years of collective bargaining, mediation and a claim lodged with the Employment Relations Authority.

Hargreaves, who has been a teacher for more than 13 years, lived in a house with three generations, including her elderly parents and her children, who were undertaking tertiary study.

That extra money would make a big difference to her, and other affected teachers – many of who were the primary earner in their household, she said.

Knowing she earned about 12 percent less than her colleagues made Hargreaves feel less valued, so she decided it was important to put her name to the case in order to make a change.

The pay equity claim had been a long journey so far, with Hargreaves and the other three women signing on about three years ago.

It had been an investment of time and emotion for them, and of money for the PPTA union, which was financing the case on behalf of the members who voted to lodge the claim.

“We’ve come so far, and now somebody wants to try and stop it,” she said.

“If we have to start all over again, it’ll be a real kick in the guts.”

Despite that, if the PPTA had to start from the start under the new legislation, all four women would stay on to see the fight through to the end, Hargreaves said.

Justice delayed

PPTA deputy general secretary of policy Tom Haig submitted to the Education and Workforce Select Committee last week, calling for a change to that clause.

The coalition Government has put a significant focus on pay equity claims and fair pay agreements since taking power.

Haig said in light of that, this provision was “bizarre”, and was not consistent with its claims it was in favour of pay equity.

If the PPTA’s case was discontinued, they would seek compensation for the money lost on the case.

So far, the PPTA had spent about $400,000 on the case. By the time it was done, the union expected to spend another couple of hundred thousand.

The PPTA had been working to even the playing field since 2002, through five rounds of collective bargaining and a mediation process.

Members voted to lodge an equal pay case, and in 2017 the Employment Relations Authority transferred the case to the Employment Court. The case was re-lodged there in 2018, and was due to be heard in May this year.

The union was not seeking back-pay for the thousands of affected teachers as part of the claim, but to be paid equitably in the future, if the case was successful in court.

“Clearly it would be a slap in the face to our part-time teachers who would once again have to go back into the queue to get this long-standing issue resolved.”

Not too late to change

National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the transitional clause could cause significant delays for those who had an active case, including part-time secondary teachers.

“The PPTA has been working towards pay equity for part-time secondary teachers.

“Discontinuing its claim would cost years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Kaye said.

“National is committed to achieving pay equity in New Zealand, which is why we support this bill as a step toward closing the gender pay gap and ensuring female-dominated jobs are paid fairly.

“However, the transitional provisions are flawed and will only serve to delay or put at risk completely existing pay equity claims.”

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said there had been some confusion over the drafting of the bill, but the intent was to allow current cases to continue.

“The intention is that, effectively, they’ll be able to carry on with their claim.”

Lees-Galloway said if there were issues with the way the bill was drafted, they would be “tidied up” at select committee or through a supplementary order paper.

A spokesperson for Lees-Galloway said the policy intent of the transitional provisions for pay equity claims was to shift pay equity from the existing court-based framework to the bargaining framework. 

Without those provisions, existing pay equity claims would be considered under the Equal Pay Act which would undermine the framework set out in the bill.

The drafting of the transitional provisions for pay equity claims recognises existing progress in bargaining under the new bill by allowing parties to have formal written agreements to bargain (prior to enactment), thereby retaining their position under the new legislation. If parties were unable to agree, they would then need to re-lodge their claims under the new legislation.

The bill was clear the court would no longer have the ability to develop principles for pay equity. The bill's purpose was to implement the pay equity principles agreed by the Joint Working Group and the Reconvened Joint Working Group, the spokesperson said.

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