Thursday, April 20, 2017

The age of equality

The 'Caring Counts'  report that helped deliver a long overdue 
$2 billion dollar gender pay-equity deal 

Jane Fonda's 2011 TED talk on the power of ageing
and justice for the aged 

Politics is a dirty business, make no mistake, and our right-wing government's recent decision to support a massive pay-equity increase to the mostly female workforce employed in the aged care and wider paid-care sector is a blatant election-year stunt.

The same government previously went out of its way to block pay equity and before that, in 1991, its ideological ancestors passed the Employment Contracts Act that did away with collective bargaining, dismantling the union's power and leaving it up to the individual to negotiate his/her own wages and conditions.  Hence the pay gap between employers and employees, rich and poor, men and women increased steeply, and was particularly stark in the female-dominated caring sector. As the Caring Counts report stated:

"Carers are completely undervalued. We do a job that no-one sees.
We are a vulnerable workforce looking after vulnerable people."

Kristine Bartlett
For the male dominated right-wing government to take electoral credit for putting right what they went out of their way to put wrong less than twenty years earlier, is political cynicism in the extreme, and even then, wouldn't have happened if not for a Human Rights Commission report and one particularly determined aged-care worker, Kristine Bartlett, who'd been on the same $14.40 per hour wage after twenty years in the job and spent years fighting in the courts for pay equity for women workers like her until she finally succeeded.

The courts also finally ruled that NZ was in breach of the International Labour Organisation Equal Remuneration Convention (1983). In fact there was equal-pay legislation in place in New Zealand as far back as 1972 and the left-wing had done its best to equalise pay for women and other disadvantaged groups whenever it was in government. But as in all western countries the bastards on the wrong wing have dominated and have systematically set about undoing many of these pay-equity gains.

If the present wrong-wingers use this move as leverage to get reelected for a fourth term I worry that the gains won't be worth the price paid, as they will no doubt continue to cut funding in the rest of the health-care system beyond election year. It's a depressing thought and a fundamental flaw in the democratic system.

But I take some comfort in public politicisation processes, like TED talks, that are proliferating every year and giving voice to an ever wider array of people, like Jane Fonda, who have the power to popularise unpopular messages, such as justice for the older of age and older women specifically - 'the largest demographic in the world' - to a global, cross-partisan, cross-cultural, all-age, all-gender audience. The future of justice for all is in their hands, ultimately, as party politics and the formal political system become increasingly corrupted by big money and big fear-mongering madness.

Still, in the short term this is a big win for NZ's women and a massive credit to the tireless work of one woman in particular, whose caring work in looking after the elderly for twenty years was valued over that period, if not always, as work of minimum value to society. Rubbish collection (men's work) is paid more. But she showed them her real worth in never giving up and so paved the way, as far as she could, for justice for other chronically undervalued women. Thanks Kristine; your work is priceless.

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