15 Oct 2022

Economic abuse, systemic discrimination, lived experiences of Pasifika in workplaces

8:27 am on 15 October 2022

Economic abuse, systemic discrimination, unconscious bias, and utter disrespect are just some of the lived experiences Pasifika community members have faced in the workplace in Aotearoa.

These findings are part of the final report by the Human Rights Commission Pacific Pay Gap inquiry.

It further revealed that Pacific women across Aotearoa are working for free from now until 2023.

Pasifika women earn 25 percent less than Pākehā men, making them the lowest on the pay scale.

Community leader Nia Bartley said this ethnic pay gap was disrespectful and exploited those within the Pasifika community.

"We've learned from the hard way and been very patient, yet our efforts have not been reciprocated with a speed in a timely manner.

I don't think any other group would have tolerated this inequality for this long. So, the Pasifika community is really saying enough is enough - come to the party and help us get across the line and close the pay gap."

Construction workers generic

Construction workers Photo: RNZ Pacific / Lydia Lewis

The call for better working conditions and equal pay for Pacific workers dates back to the 1970s, with the Polynesian Panthers creating conversations that are still ongoing in 2022.

The inquiry has found Pacific peoples earn less than all other ethnic groups but still do not fully understand why.

Bartley said these inequalities are rooted in the system and ripple into the psyche, mental health, and value of how Pacific people view themselves.

"Something urgently needs to be done because while this isn't happening, the well-being of an individual and their family is affected. This pay gap is intergenerational - if family members aren't aware of what is happening, it continues, and this is not right."

Bartley said everyone needs to take responsibility, as no New Zealander would tolerate such forms of inequality today.

"We must work together to eliminate the pay gap - Pasifika and non-Pasifika. Once this is achieved, everybody will win as it will be uplifting. So, I think the notion out there that it is all about Pasifika, Pasifika need to do more, Pasifika need to work hard, isn't the case. In fact, sometimes we have more hurdles as Pasifika to achieve, as other groups do not need to work as hard for."

Community representative Fuimaono Jennifer Laulala said the ethnic pay gap is a harsh reminder of the unfair working conditions and missed opportunities Pasifika experiences.

Laucala said people simply do not earn enough money to pay school fees, buy food, raise their children and even pay their rent.

"This discriminates against Pasifika and Māori as they share the bottom of the pay scale. So, where is honouring Te Tiriti in that? Where is the respect for the Treaty of Waitangi? Where is the respect for tāngata Pasifika? Where is respect for our community? This is economical abuse."

Laulala said the onus rests heavily on the shoulders of every Pasifika to continue the fight for equality.

"As Pasifika, we need to mobilise and normalise these conversations at home. We need to talk about this at the dinner table with your whanau, nieces, nephews, aunties, and uncles so that they are aware and will keep this conversation alive. We are calling for change; we are holding the Government accountable. They launched the Gender Pay principles and will close it by 2025, but I don't see that happening. The principles are launched, but nothing is supporting it."

Laulala encouraged the Pasifika community not to settle for these inequalities and make their voice heard.

"This report reflects my children and me. I am doing this for my children and whanau. So, to be able to see such a report to be able to solidify and take it to the next level hopefully is reassuring. My message to the community is not to never give up on what you believe is yours. Have those conversations. If you need support, call your uso - connect with us because you have a community of people that support you in your Mahi - reach out."

Bartley calls on the community to be informed and hold people in power accountable.

"Our people need to understand the importance of getting involved because often we sit back and let things unfold. This goes back to our history, during the time of Missionaries when we would trust colonisers to look after us - well, quite frankly, that hasn't actually happened overall because we wouldn't be in this situation now."

What is the Pacific Pay inequality?

Last year, the gap between the hourly earnings of Pacific men and Pākehā men was 18.8 per cent. Alongside Māori women, Pacific men and women experience the largest pay gaps compared to other ethnic groups.

The inquiry found employers are prejudiced against Pacific names and undervalue qualifications held by Pasifika people.

Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner, Saunoamaali'i Dr Karanina Sumeo.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo Photo: HRC

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Karanina Sumeo said Pasifika faced barriers at each stage of their employment journey.

Sumeo said this included finding a job, recruitment, negotiating pay, seeking promotion, upskilling and training, communication, and awareness of employment rights.

She added Pacific workers said they actively raised complaints in their workplace, but their employers did not listen to or act on their concerns. As a result, these unaddressed concerns impacted Pacific workers' well-being.

"These are the experiences of Pasifika when they put their hands up for promotion to improve their income, but somehow they are still not good enough. So, the only thing we can put it down to is bias because they have proven their worth, got the qualification, often they have been in these companies for years and still not good enough."

The Commissioner said New Zealand needs to close the gap urgently, giving the call a 20-year time frame.

"The reality is that if you look at the Gender Pay Gap - we have had the Equal Pay Act since 1972, and we still don't have equal pay. So, we learnt from our previous work that you need targets and investments. We need to invest in addressing inequity because, without it, it is optional and becomes something that people will get around when they do. So, if we want to achieve inequity in New Zealand based on eliminating racism and discrimination - we have to invest in it and set targets."

What does the Pasifika Community want?

The report stated that Pacific people just wanted fair remuneration, work-life balance, and supportive managers who care, respect, honour and value.

Pacific people's ideas for change included mentorship, pay transparency, raising the minimum wage to the living wage, pay scales, progression pathways, and employee incentives.

The report recommends urgent legislation requiring pay transparency, raising the minimum wage to the living wage, and expanding the equal pay act to include ethnicity and disability.

It also calls for employers to disclose job pay bands when advertised. In addition, refrain from asking about previous salaries during recruitment and remove pay confidentiality clauses from employment agreements.