Teacher aides deserve their just-announced massive pay rises because the work they do is just as skilled and important as that carried out by prison officers and Customs officials, Education Minister Chris Hipkins says.
The Ministry of Education on Wednesday night said it had struck a deal with union NZEI Te Riu Roa, which will see aides get boosts up to 28 percent. Like the teaching workforce, most teacher aides are women. And like most workforces dominated by women, they've been historically underpaid compared to similar jobs done by men.
Hipkins told The AM Show on Thursday an "exhausting" four-year process looked at comparable workforces dominated by men to come up with the new pay rates, which range from $21.20 to $34.68 per hour.
"What other types of jobs have a similar set of responsibilities, a similar kind of work process, a similar skill level? In this case two of the comparatives for example were someone working in a prison and someone working in Customs.
"Typically for a pay equity claim there will be four or five comparator jobs - they go through the comparator jobs, they look at what their duties are, they look at how they compare with the job that's the subject of the pay equity claim, they look at what their rates of pay are and the other terms and conditions they have, and then they make a good, robust comparison, and based on that, you get a settlement."
Asked by The AM Show host Ryan Bridge if being a teacher aide was as dangerous as working in a prison, Hipkins said there was never going to be a perfect comparison - but the jobs were closer than some might think.
"If you look at teacher aides, they're often dealing with some of the most vulnerable kids in the school, they're often dealing with kids with high behavioural needs for example, as a prison officer might be dealing with."
NZEI president Liam Rutherford said the evidence was "stark", and confirmed what they already knew to be true.
"Teacher aides have been significantly undervalued and underpaid for decades because they are predominantly women. This proposed settlement will finally pay teacher aides equitably and recognise their value.
"This settlement also paves the way for pay equity settlements for other support staff groups, such as administrators and Kaiārahi i te Reo (Māori language educators), which we're looking to progress as quickly as possible."
Asked if the Government is a "sexist" employer for underpaying female-dominated workforces, Hipkins said it was a problem across the entire workforce, public and private.
"If you look at the overall gender pay gap across the country, as a country we've still got a challenge ahead of us. The Government's no different to the rest of the workforce, where women are historically paid less than men across a range of fields, and what the Government's put in place is a process of saying 'actually, this is not good enough'. We're going to identify where that's happening and we're going to fix it. "
The new pay rates will be backdated to February 12. The cost is about $50 million a year.