Claim of discrimination against wāhine Māori to go ahead

6:54 pm on 1 February 2019

The Waitangi Tribunal has agreed to hear a claim from the Public Service Association rūnanga that government actions and policies have systematically discriminated against Māori women in breach of the Treaty Of Waitangi.

Generic money.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Specifically that is has relegated generations of wāhine [Māori women] to low paid jobs with working conditions that leave them extremely vulnerable.

Four PSA members lodged the claim with the Waitangi Tribunal on behalf of Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Awhina. It will be considered as part of the generic mana wāhine claim.

Latest figures from the State Services Commission show while Pākehā women in the public service earn 13 percent less than their male counterparts, Māori earn 22 percent less than Pākehā men.

Lawyer for the claim, Tania Te Whenua, told Morning Report the PSA and rununga have become deeply concerned at the level of inequity that Māori women face in their employment.

"From the outset for them a primary concern was pay disparity, and pay disparity has been a hot topic of late and it's well known that women are paid comparatively less than men in equivalent roles. So the the PSA and the rūnunga are both strong advocates for equal work for equal pay.

"But there is another layer to the gender pay disparity issue that has been ignored, that the rūnunga has picked up on. That's the compounding disparity experienced by wāhine.

"The 2018 Household Labour Force survey shows where as Pākehā women earn 15 percent than their male counterparts, wāhine Māori earn 27 percent less than Pākehā men. In dollar terms that's a difference of nearly $9 per hour. So the take home point is that wāhine Māori don't simply earn less than women they earn significantly less," she said.

Ms Te Whenua said primary issues for the rūnunga in bringing this claim before the Waitangi Tribunal was that there was a deficit of research around analysing the nature and the extent of the discrepancy for wāhine Māori.

"So the rūnunga engaged myself and themselves have done research to examine what were the contributing factors that lead wāhine Māori down this narrow path. We found that many of the contributing factors were the proactive policies on the part of the Crown, their acts and also their omissions which are triggers which has lead to wāhine Māori earning significantly less.

Ms Te Whenua said some of those contributing factors leading to the disparity are the systematic failure of the education system both past and present for wāhine Māori.

"We still have a proportion of wāhine Māori who are not in educational training, exceeding that of all other genders and ethnicities.

"Wāhine Māori continue to be the group most likely to leave school without the equivalent of University Entrance or NCEA Level three. Whilst the Crown is attempting to implement strategies to support Māori generally to gain qualifications and progress into higher paid vocations, wāhine Māori aren't receiving any particularly targetted attention."

In 2018, unemployment rates were 10.6 percent for wāhine Māori, 8.2 percent for Māori men and that compares with 4.1 percent for the total labour force, she said.

Underemployment rates are also higher for wāhine Māori.

"Crown policy which discriminates against wāhine Māori by encouraging them into occupations which are historically paid less, rather than occupations that offer any contingency for personal development and economic stability such as factory work and other low paid roles - roles characterised by lower wages, poorer work conditions, less security, fewer opportunity for advancement, then those for example, occupied by Pākehā women like nursing and teaching.

"When you have those historic policies where the Crown actively encouraged Māori women into those types of roles, couple with a contemporary inertia towards improving working conditions for wāhine Māori, you have a problem that becomes inter-generational."