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Earlier this year, Margaret Long (nee Brand), a life member of the PSA and relentless campaigner for equal pay passed away.
Margaret, a Department of Statistics clerical worker, joined the PSA Women’s subcommittee in 1952 and became known to her rueful opponents as ‘Firebrand’ for her determination to achieve equal pay.
Headlines opposing equal pay were commonplace. “Equal Pay for Women is Injustice for Men” ran in Wellington newspaper The Evening Post. In a case where a Dunedin woman was demoted in 1956, a National MP is quoted having said “She won’t mind, she is young, attractive and has a husband.”
The PSA adopted the principle of equal pay in 1914 but made no progress until the 1950s. Women civil servants were regularly passed over for promotion and salary increases in favour of younger male staff with little or no experience. The Public Service Commission defended this practice by arguing that men were paid a ‘social wage’ that recognised their role as the family breadwinner. This attitude ignored the reality that growing numbers of women supported themselves financially, and often their families as well.
THE MARGARET LONG MEMORIAL LECTURE
On Friday night, 11 September, Labour Party leader Andrew Little delivered the Margaret Long Memorial Lecture at Otaki College Hall. The speech was given in memory of Margaret Long QSM and her commitment to social justice, equal pay and her work in the Otaki community.
Here is the full text of that speech:
Tēnā Koutou Katoa.
Thank you all for the opportunity to speak this evening.
It is an honour to speak today in memory of Margaret Long.
Tonight, I want to talk about her life, the causes she fought for, the victories she won, and the work that she left for us to continue. I also want to talk about the way she fought for what she believed in, and the lessons we can take from that.
Margaret Long was a public servant in the very best sense of the word.
She spent her life in service to other people. Helping others. Teaching others. Campaigning for others. That was Margaret’s calling.
From her work as a teacher, to her activism for pay equity, to her life membership of the PSA, to her years of service to local community groups here in Ōtaki, Margaret spent her life making other people’s lives better.
Through her work, through her campaigning, she helped secure better treatment for millions of New Zealand women who came after her.
The Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960, which abolished gender discrimination in the Public Service, was the result of the efforts of campaigners like Margaret. That piece of legislation was the first in New Zealand’s history to enshrine in law the principle that a woman doing the same job as a man deserved the same pay.
Margaret was a fierce believer in equality. She wanted to see people get a fair reward for the effort they put in. She wanted to see women treated with the dignity they deserved.
And when confronted with injustice and discrimination, she was tenacious in standing up to it, fighting it, and doing what she could to end it. This was a woman who knew injustice when she saw it, and she knew what to do to change it.
There’s a well-known story about Margaret that I really like.
It was 1955, and the chairman of the Public Service Commission was speaking at a Public Service Association conference. He had finished his speech and was taking questions from the floor. One of the PSA members spoke up and asked the chairman about the issue of equal pay. Why was it, they asked, that a man should be paid more for doing the same job as a woman?
The chairman looked down from the stage and replied: “‘Why pay ten bob for an article you can get for five?’’
Margaret would use that remark to win over more supporters for her equal pay campaign. She held it up as an example of the sort of bigotry that was holding women in New Zealand back. She used it to bring new energy and supporters into her campaign. She didn’t just get mad, she got organised. And it worked.
Over the course of Margaret’s life, the equal pay movement won real advancements for women in New Zealand. Not just the legislation in 1960 ending pay discrimination in the public service, but legislation in 1972 outlawing it in the private sector as well.
But for all the advancements she and her fellow campaigners had been able to make, when Margaret died earlier this year, just 2 days short of her 88th birthday, she died knowing there was so much work still to be done.
Right now, according to the New Zealand Income Survey, the gender pay gap in New Zealand is almost 10%. On the mean weekly full time wage the gap is a full 18.4%.
Margaret Long worked for many years in the Department of Statistics. She knew that numbers don’t lie. On equal pay, the numbers aren’t good.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Report, in just the last year alone, New Zealand has dropped from 7th in the world to 13th when it comes to closing the gap between men and women. A 9.9% gender pay gap means a woman would have to work an extra 28 days per year to keep up with her male counterpart’s salary.
That’s like finishing the race, then saying to half the runners “you have to do another lap”.
This pay gap persists even in Government departments. The Human Rights Commission’s 2012 Census of Women’s Participation, looked at the gender pay gap in Government departments. It showed that 21 agencies had a gender pay gap higher than the 14.3% average, with the highest being 42%.
The state services (and local government) have the EEO clause in their legislation, so the state should be an exemplar employer, leading the way on policies and practice to implement equal pay. Under this Government, that isn’t happening.
In professional industries, the gender pay gap is often just as wide. For example, a study of pay rates amongst chartered accountants showed the gap between men and women had widened this year to its highest level since 2010, with a man making on average over $45,000 more than a woman in a comparable role.
The gender pay gap has a big impact on women later in life. According to ANZ, New Zealand women, on average, are likely to retire with around $60,000 less than men, based on current savings patterns. That kind of discrimination is not a part of our national character, so I believe as New Zealanders these numbers should give us real cause for concern.
They show we aren’t living up to our ideals. We’re tolerating unfairness.
The pay equity question goes deeper than just average hourly wages. According to MBIE, nearly half the women in our workforce are in industries that are more than 80% female. It’s not a surprise that these industries tend to have much lower incomes than those dominated by men. That’s why the vast majority of workers on the minimum wage are women.
That’s part of why Labour believes we need to raise the minimum wage and extend parental leave to give women more support to stay in paid work while giving them more time to spend those precious early months focussed on their baby if that is what they choose to do.
When Margaret Long started campaigning, the gender pay gap was kept alive by allowing men and women to do the same job for different pay. Today it survives by undervaluing the work that women do. This is an issue of pay equity, and remains a significant challenge. And it has serious flow on effects as well.
Low pay among women is a key contributor to New Zealand’s shameful rates of child poverty, given the high percentage of children dependent on income generated by women. We will never fully address the gender pay gap – we will never finish Margaret’s work – unless we ensure there is no gender bias in the way we value the work that women do.
Pay equity is the next fight we have to win. That is what is at issue in the ongoing Kristine Bartlett case. I want to acknowledge here the work of people like the Service and Food Worker’s Union, the PSA, NZNO, the Pay Equity Campaign and Kristine Bartlett herself.
They are continuing Margaret’s fight today.
The question which must be resolved this this: if a man and a woman do work of equal value, but in different roles – is it right for a man to be paid more than a woman? Because the grim reality that too many women in New Zealand have to face is that our society simply does not value the work they do as much as the work men do.
This has been an area our current government has been loathe to address. The government could have asked to appear in the Employment Court at the start of Kristine’s case. It didn’t and only made an appearance after the decision when it turned up at the Court of Appeal.
We need to change the notion that the government doesn’t need to step up on this critical issue/ We need a government fully committed to equal pay for work of equal value.
We also need to address New Zealand’s shocking shortage of women in senior leadership positions. Kiwis look at places like America, where there are more men named John running large companies than all women running large firms put together, and shake our heads.
We don’t want to be that kind of country. But when the New Zealand Herald recently published a survey of the highest paid corporate executives in New Zealand, guess what happened? Not a single woman made the list. Not a single one.
I want to be very clear today. The Government that I lead, the next Labour Government, will make closing the gender gap a priority. We will make sure that the work women do is valued, and that every woman has the same opportunities a man would.
This matters to me.
I’ve spent my working life making sure the labour market operates in a way that ensures people have secure jobs, decent work, and the opportunity to get ahead. I came into politics because I wanted to play my part in building economic opportunity for every New Zealander. In Labour, we believe that the best way for our country to get ahead is to make it easier for New Zealanders to get ahead, no matter their background. Opportunity for everyone leads to prosperity for everyone.
We can’t get ahead as a country if we are leaving some of our most talented workers on the side-lines and holding them back from taking on leadership positions. When women miss out on the opportunity to make the most of themselves, we are all the poorer for it.
Or as Helen Clark, someone who knows more than a little about the power of women’s leadership, put it: “All our societies are the poorer if they fail to tap the full potential of half their population.”
It’s a simple question of inclusion. Which makes it a basic social democratic principle. That’s why the next Labour Government will take a lead on pay equity.
We’ll start with urgently working on paying aged healthcare assistants and caregivers fairly, and work out a track to get to a position of pay equity as quickly as possible. We’d take the lead and work with all stakeholders on making pay equity in that sector a reality. And we would want to see the principles that inform pay equity available for all working women, and commit to proper enforcement mechanisms.
The last Labour Government made progress on this in 2006 with the nurses MECA, providing the $500 million to registered nurses and caregivers in DHB hospitals to address the pay equity gap. That was the result of tireless campaigning by NZNO, a group that is a core part of today’s pay equity movement.
The Labour Party has always been at the forefront of fighting for fairer treatment and a better future for women. We were the first party in New Zealand to write pay equity into our policy platform in 1927. In fact in 1990, Labour passed the Employment Equity Act.
In 1990, you could say we were ahead of our time, if it weren’t for the fact that addressing this issue has taken too long already. That law, which set out a process for groups of people in female-dominated occupations to compare themselves to similar male-dominated occupations for the purpose of determining a fair pay rate, was the first piece of legislation to be repealed by the incoming National Government in 1991.
And on the day it was repealed members of the National Council of Women came out of Parliament and joined the unionists and others protesting the tearing up of that short lived but powerful next step toward pay equity.
That’s a legacy we carry with pride, and it’s a promise we will deliver on in Government. That’s the type of change that Margaret spent her life fighting for.
But I think it’s worth stopping for a moment and examining how it was that Margaret and the pay equity movement won the changes they did.
What Margaret Long understood was that change for the better doesn’t come from on high. It doesn’t just happen at the whim of our political leaders.
Social change happens because ordinary men and women identify injustice, and come together to demand that it ends. In a democracy, change can’t happen overnight. A new idea can’t win acceptance right away. It requires everyday people to speak out, to find allies, to change minds, to win people over.
To build a better country from the ground up, by building a constituency for change. That change can take years. But nothing of value comes easy.
In the words of Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Margaret Long was someone who knew that all too well. She knew that the key to change was persistence.
There was a time, before the law changed, when the old boffins of the public service and her opponents in the media would give Margaret the scornful nickname of “Miss Firebrand.” She hated that name because she saw it for the sexist putdown that it was. But when they mocked her, Margaret kept going.
What many people don’t know about the night the 1960 Government Service Equal Pay Act passed was that in the end, the vote was unanimous.
When Margaret started her campaigning, equal pay was a radical idea, and the people advocating it were scoffed at. When it came before the house, not a single politician dared to vote against it, so large was the constituency for change.
They ignored her, they laughed at her, she fought them, and she won. There’s a real lesson to be taken from her victory.
For parties like Labour who believe in social justice, who want to see change for the better, the lesson is that we cannot make change on our own.
The Labour Party sprung out of the labour movement. Out of the acknowledgement that one could not be successful without the other.
Yes, we need political parties to enact changes to law, but that can’t be done without a real movement for change, just as popular movements need political power to effect legislative change.
Today, nearly 3000 other carers have joined Kristine in her legal challenge . And now we see midwives and education support workers adding their voice to the cause.
By campaigning, by changing minds, by bringing court cases, by exposing the statistics of inequality, by identifying injustice and bringing people together to end it, they are building that constituency for change. In a democracy, real change is only possible if we bring people with us. If we if do that, there is nothing we can’t change.
People love to tell us that problems are too hard to solve. That things will never change. That the challenges we face are too big or too complex, better left to the experts or left alone all together.
But Margaret’s life, the victories she won and the way she won them, proves those people wrong. She shows us that if there is an injustice we cannot stand, an unfairness we cannot tolerate, then we have the power to change it together.
Margaret Long’s life and service were an inspiration. New Zealand’s public life, as well as the community in Ōtaki that she loved, are so much poorer for having lost her.
But her legacy lives on. The fight for equal pay continues. The fight for fair treatment of workers, for economic opportunity for everyone, continues.
When we look to Margaret’s example, we know that together, with persistence, commitment and courage, we can win that fight. We can end injustice, banish discrimination and build a New Zealand where everyone can live up to their potential.
Margaret Long obituaries: