Pacific workers earning up to 24 pct less than Pākehā - research

New research shows Pacific workers are earning up to 24 percent less than their Pākehā counterparts.

The majority of the pay gap between Pacific workers and others cannot be explained, but it could be partly due to employer bias or racism.

If you want to find Pacific workers, look no further than New Zealand's building sites, since 40 percent of Pacific men are labourers or machine drivers.

But do they get paid the same as everyone else?

"What we are told to do, we just do it and it's never questioned. And if they don't question it on the shop floor, they don't question their pay," said E tū union president-elect Gadiel Asiata.

The gap reaches across all jobs and genders.

For every dollar a Pākehā man earns, a Pākehā woman gets 94 cents, a Pacific man 76 cents, and a Pacific woman 73 cents.

"It's time to give back, it's time to give what they deserve," Asiata said.

But why does the gap exist?

New research found factors like region, educational level, occupation, and industry only explained 27 percent of the pay gap, and for Pacific women it explained 39 percent.

Explaining the unexplained is tricky.

"There could be some data we don't have that we could include, it could be preferences but it could also be unconscious bias and it could also be discrimination," said Gail Pacheco, professor of economics at Auckland University of Technology.

The research was produced for Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunomaali'i Karanina Sumeo, who said racism plays a part.

"Absolutely, in the experience of the Pacific they have used racism, if they have used the racism then it is racism."

The Commissioner wants to make employers record ethnic pay rates in the same way gender pay rates are now monitored.

"We are talking 30 percent of the population who are non-European, this is huge," she said.

Researchers warn the report has its limitations and that the size of the unexplained gap and what drives it could be "overestimated". 

It's part of an ongoing inquiry into the Pacific Pay Gap that aims to deliver recommendations later this year.