1940s to 1960s
All women up to the age of 44 expected to register for work
The outbreak of the World War II brought significant opportunities for women in the labour market. Not only were many women now the main breadwinners of their families, women were expected to take up jobs left by men. In 1942, single women were ordered into essential occupations, while by 1944, all women up to the age of 44 were expected to register for work. As noted by Margaret Corner in her book No Easy Victory, it had finally become socially acceptable for married women to participate in the workforce. By 1944, 228,000 women were in paid employment with another 8,000 serving in the armed forces.
The public service soon expanded with many new wartime agencies being formed. Women representatives of the Public Service Association (PSA) revived the issue of equal pay for equal work, setting up a sub-committee and sending out questionnaires about wages and conditions to its women members. While different pay rates for men and women remained under the Minimum Wage Act 1945, this legislation did not contain any references to protecting the role of male breadwinners. International instruments such as the United Nations Charter of 1945, Declaration of Human Rights 1949 and the ILO 1951 Convention which all recognise the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, added to the debate.
Minimum wage for women 70% of the male rate
In New Zealand, the 1949 decision of the Arbitration Court set the minimum wage for women at 70% of the male rate. However a later claim in 1951 to increase women's wage rates to 75% was rejected and then in 1953 the Court set lower limits for women compared to men in the new wage increases.
A pivotal moment in the 1950s was the 1956 test case of Jean Parker, an employee of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD). This case drew widespread attention to equal pay as well as the employment conditions of women in the public service. At that time rules governed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) included different levels of salary progression for women and men. Men's maximum rates were far higher and many women were junior to the most junior males in their grades. Although Jean Parker's appeal to the Supreme Court was successful, the PSC attracted massive criticism by instructing the IRD to reduce Jean Parker's salary and responsibilities. This decision was met by intensive criticism from women workers, who led an energetic campaign to reverse the PSC's actions. On 5 September 1956, a temporary agreement froze the earlier PSC decision, re-instating Jean Parker's previous position and salary.
Council for Equal Pay and Opportunities (CEPO) formed
In 1957, both the National and Labour Parties made equal pay one of their platform issues in the forthcoming General Election. The Council for Equal Pay and Opportunities was formed in 1957, with membership comprising women's organisations, trade unions and employer organisations. A 1958 Working Party Report was completed, with the Labour Government then establishing an Equal Pay Implementation Committee in 1958. The struggles of the 1950s were replaced with the passing of the Government Service Equal Pay Act in 1960.
- 1897 to 1936
- This page: 1940s to 1960s
- 1967 to 1987
- 1988 to present
- list of acronyms and abbreviations