A Victory in the Long March for Equal Pay

Another legal victory has been chalked up for equal pay and it is a big one. On 28 October the Court of Appeal delivered its judgement on the appeal by Terranova Homes against the Employment Court’s decision in favour of Kristine Bartlett’s case for equal pay. Two courts now have ruled that Terranova Homes, and by implication many other employers, are breaching the 1972 Equal Pay Act. The point of contention is whether a predominantly female workforce should be paid the same rates as a comparable predominantly male workforce working with the same levels of skills, effort, and responsibility. Terranova pay their women workers the same as their handful of men workers. This does not help the women as the men are paid a pittance as well.

Although the case for comparison across separate workforces has been upheld by the Court of Appeal the battle for equal pay is far from over. It is certain that there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. Terranova Homes are not alone. In the Court of Appeal case they were backed by lawyers for Business New Zealand Inc., New Zealand Aged Care Association Inc. and the Attorney-General. The principles at stake are relevant to thousands of women workers whose unequal pay constitutes the overall gender pay gap.

The long struggle for equal pay since the 1960s is littered with legal ups and downs. What we know is that the employer class and their political representatives in Parliament will fight like hell to pay women unequally.

Women’s labours contribute wealth to the capitalist minority in two ways. One is through their underpaid work. The other is in their unpaid role at home in disproportionately bearing the burden of care and maintenance of workers, bringing up the next generation and caring for retired workers. Capitalism depends on women’s subordinate roles. Therein lies the revolutionary potential of women’s struggle for equality.