Pay equity taskforce proposed to be disestablished

"I was livid."

That was Tracey Morgan's reaction to the proposed disestablishment of the pay equity taskforce. She's worked in primary healthcare for more than 17 years and says the decision is a backwards step.

"This pay equity was a way forward. That gave us some hope. But it's gone, it's been whipped away from us in a heartbeat," she said.

Paul Goulter, chief executive of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation agrees.

"We're a bit astounded. I don't know why the Government would want to wind back resourcing," he said.

"I thought they'd be strongly in favour of ensuring gender discrimination is eliminated from wage rates."

The taskforce was put in place three years ago by Labour to help government agencies navigate the Equal Pay Act, supporting pay equity bargaining for women. All six of its roles are affected by the proposal.

"The Equal Pay Act only takes into account the grounds of sex, not age, disability or ethnicity," said Saunoamaali'i Dr Karanina Sumeo, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. "We are far from done. We are far from ready."

In a statement, Public Service Minister Nicola Willis said: "Individual agencies have always been responsible for negotiating pay equity claims.

"They will continue to be responsible for doing so with support from the Public Service Commission and Treasury.

"Negotiation of the care and support workers' pay equity claim is ongoing.

"The last Government did not forecast funding for the Pay Equity Taskforce beyond June this year. This is likely because it understood the taskforce was only ever meant to be a temporary measure while agencies familiarised themselves with the claim process."

There were still about 25 claims outstanding that were now at risk, Labour's spokesperson for workplace relations and safety Camilla Belich said.

That's including the claim representing more than 60,000 care and support workers, which has been unresolved for two years.

"We're already suffering and have been for some years of a critical shortage of care and support workers," said New Zealand Disability Support Network CEO Peter Reynolds.

"It's very hard to recruit people into the sector when you're paying minimum wage. So we need to get this pay equity situation sorted."

The Public Service Commission is consulting taskforce staff on the proposed disestablishment, with its time-limited funding ending on June 30.