Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
The Pacific Pay Gap Inquiry has launched its full report after a two year investigation into why Pacific people are paid less than any other group in New Zealand.
The biggest disparity appears between Pacific women and Pākehā men; an average annual pay gap of $24,671. For Pacific men, it’s $19,500.
Over a lifetime of work, the total difference in pay between Pacific women and Pākehā men is almost half a million dollars ($488,310). For Pacific men, it’s $400,368.
“Imagine what you could have done with that money,” Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karenina Sumeo said, speaking at the report launch in early this month.
“Opportunities for your children, buy a house, start a business…. your basic human rights could have been met with that money. Without it, we’re very limited.”
The empirical analysis of Stats New Zealand data, undertaken for the Inquiry by Professor Gail Pacheco, Professor of Economics at AUT, and Director of the NZ Work Research Institute, shows differences in education levels and type of work account for some of the Pacific pay gap. But leaves the bulk of it unexplained.
That space is where the qualitative research component of the Inquiry gathered evidence.
Submissions were made by 1200 Pacific workers, 40 employers, and four unions.
“We met with CEOs, we met with engineers. The whole span with public servants and so forth. We can confidently say that this represents the voices of Pacific,” Dr Sumeo said.
The findings highlighted too, discriminatory hiring practises and working environments.
“Pacific workers who have been working as casual or contract workers, often for the same company for years on end, forever hoping to get an offer of a permanent job. Experiences of being bullied or being racially harassed, being sexually harassed in the workforce, specific people come out on top as having experienced more of those behaviors than any other group,” said Dr Sumeo.
“If anybody is suffering that form of violence, of course it’s going to impact your performance. Of course it’s going to impact your progression and of course it’s going to contribute to perpetuating the pay gaps and inequity.”
“These are stories, sadly, that have remained in our communities for so long that we’ve accepted it as normal,” Hon Aupito William Sio, Minister for Pacific People, said, at the launch.
Speaking afterwards, he elaborated, “Even at my level, I experience racism, discrimination, or unconscious bias. I see it all over the place.”
Deloittes partner Lisa Tai said, “It’s as if you could pick up these stories and they would resonate and have relevance with most Pacific workers in any decade for the last 50 to 60 years.”
Tai joined the inquiry business reference group because of her mother’s story.
“When I think about my mum’s experience of being a factory worker for over 20 years and never being acknowledged or recognized or having the appropriate pay to reward her for her loyalty and commitment to her workplace, it’s a really sad story. But it’s not one that’s unique to her or to our family. It’s one that’s across all of our communities, across all of our families and our friends.”
The Pacific Pay Gap report gives six clear recommendations for the government, most urgently, on pay transparency, which the commissioner Dr Sumeo says, is key.
“If pay transparency gets legislated, for me, that’s huge.”
Minister Sio acknowledged his task to take this report to colleagues whose delegations are responsible for the core policy, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood, Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni, and Women’s Minister Jan Tinetti.
Minister Sio added, “I will commit the ministry for Pacific Peoples to incorporate this as part of the Pacific Wellbeing and the Pacific Employment Action Plan, and make sure that we are advocating consistently on this.”
The report includes actions for unions, businesses and pacific people in the workforce.
“Read the report,” Lisa Tai says. “Think about how the findings and the experiences in this report apply to your own workplace.”
She offered her own commitment at the launch, “If there are any employers sitting here or tuning in who don’t know where to start, but want to do something, please call me or contact me.”
“I know pay is something that is really hard to talk about,” she said afterwards, considering the recommendations for Pacific workers.
“I think if we do things as a collective and we speak to each other about experiences and things that have worked and share advice, you know, hopefully we can get there as a group.”
Reading between the lines, the report shows Pacific people are ready to speak out to provide the evidence needed for change, and Pacific leaders no longer willing to accept inequality.
“In the four years that you’ve been in that role,” Minister Sio said, addressing Commissioner Sumeo, “you’ve literally just chewed everybody’s ear up about this on the media. In the political world, that’s really powerful”
“It kind of reminded me of a brother talking to a sister,” Saunoamaali’i reflected.
“And certainly in the Samoan culture, the concept of aiga, we expect our brothers to do the right thing. So that is my expectation of him.”
Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.