Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay

Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay (CEVEP)

Equal pay in New Zealand from the 1890s to 1936.


1897 to 1936

[ concept ]   [ Montana ]   [ Labour Party policy ]


National Council of Women adopt the concept of equal pay for equal work

The history of equal pay can be traced back to the 1890s when New Zealand women successfully campaigned for universal suffrage. While women won the right to vote on 19 September 1893, the case for equal pay has not been so fortunate.

Prevailing social beliefs of a woman's place being at home along with a view that women were not as capable as men ensured lower wages for women. The cheap labour of women was in turn seen as a threat to men and boys competing for employment. As noted in public service journals of 1895:

Are women prepared to take such responsibilities off the shoulders of men, and to become the breadwinners of the family? ... Nature has not intended them to compete with men in the hard work of the world, and all your artificial arrangements cannot alter the facts.

Yet statistics proved otherwise. By 1893 over half of university students were women, while over 45,000 women were wage earners from a total adult female population of around 130,000. Growing concern over the exploitation of women in heavily dominated female professions such as teachers and dressmakers, led to early calls for equal pay from women's organisations like the YWCA and the National Council of Women. The question of equal pay was viewed by New Zealand suffragettes as the 'most important next to franchise itself', while the newly formed National Council of Women adopted the concept of equal pay for equal work at its 1897 meeting.

[ concept ]   [ Montana ]   [ Labour Party policy ]


American state of Montana enacts equal pay legislation

In 1913 the New Zealand Public Service Association was established and a year later, a remit that 'female employees of equal competence with male employees and doing similar work shall receive equal treatment as to pay and privileges' was passed at their annual conference. The first minimum wage order of the Arbitration Court in 1919, set only a minimum rate for men. At the same time, the American state of Montana enacted equal pay legislation while Article 41 of the original constitution of the International Labour Office (ILO) included an important clause that 'men and women should receive equal remuneration for work of equal value'.

[ concept ]   [ Montana ]   [ Labour Party policy ]


Labour Party adopts equal pay as policy

The Great Depression of the 1920s stalled any progress with wage cuts, rising unemployment and even the abandonment of women's recruitment into the public service. During this decade, the Labour Party first adopted equal pay as one of their 1927 policies. The 1936 Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Act later upheld conventional beliefs with an award decision that would enable the male breadwinner to support a wife and three children in a 'reasonable standard of comfort'. The first minimum wage for women was also set in 1936 at 47% of the male rate.

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Last reviewed February 2004. This website created by First Bite of the Apple.