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Like Chalk and Cheese: Pay Equity and Pay Parity

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Pay Equity and Pay Parity Differences.
Dr Sarah Alexander.
August 9, 2019.

Pay ‘parity’ and pay ‘equity’ are like chalk and cheese – very different concepts with different outcomes. 

At the moment NZEI is focused on getting ECE teachers better wages through a pay equity campaign, claiming that it is gender that determines what ECE teachers are paid.  However, it is both income (fees, donations and funding) and what employers are willing to pay that determines pay levels. Teachers as employees don’t have a lot of say in this.  With teachers holding professional qualifications pay is not an issue of gender. Pay is an issue of teachers love of children and their job to suppress wages growth and an issue of the education funding system. 

chalk and cheese

NZEI campaigned for kindergarten teachers to retain pay parity with primary – but it is not yet asking for government support to do the same for all other ECE teachers.  However, NZEI does see that pay parity can be achieved for teachers employed in non-kindergartens if the payment of teacher wages is centralised and teachers and employers become parties to a public provision collective agreement. Alongside the centralisation of payment of ECE teacher wages directly to teachers instead of indirectly through funding going to service providers via higher child-subsidy payments for employing qualified teachers, it is proposed that there should be opportunity for ECE services to apply for state-integration.

Therefore, NZEI just perhaps needs to reflect on its recent successes (instead of on the aged care workers pay equity win) and see that now is the time to strike for gold (pay parity) instead of second best for all ECE teachers.  It is parity for all certificated teachers in ECE with primary that should be asked for of the government and employers, and implemented.   

Our ECE sector sees pay parity as desirable and necessary. Evidence of this is:

  1. A recent ECE sector survey showed 39% support for wage parity for all ECE teachers with kindergarten and primary school colleagues and a further 54% support if funding was increased at the same time to match the funding rates paid to kindergartens. Only 3% did not support wage parity for all teachers working in teacher-led ECE settings and 4% did not hold a view on this.
  2. An online petition started by teacher James Lochead-Macmillan calling for the Ministry to address pay discrimination, take steps to do this by increasing its ECE teacher salary attestation steps and asking for pay parity for all ECE teachers has already received more than 9,000 signatures (  

Until such time as all employers enable their teachers to have pay parity (such as through through state integration or a centralised pay roll) and the Ministry assesses the funding needed to make this possible for employers – the responsible thing for the Ministry of Education to do would be to raise the salary attestation rates (optimally to the levels in the Kindergarten Teachers’ Collective Agreement).

What’s best for ECE teachers – pay Equity or pay Parity?

Pay equity = pay is reflective of gender

Pay parity = pay is reflective of being a teacher

The ground breaking E tū pay equity claim was dragged through the courts ending up with an application to the supreme court.  Aged care and support workers felt they were paid less than men would be for the same work. 

For ECE teachers and the ECE sector the situation is different.

While pay equity may be best to seek for staff who are not qualified and certificated teachers, pay equity if won for ECE teachers would do more harm than good. (see the sections on implications at the end of this page)

The pay and conditions set for teachers in kindergartens and primary is not based on gender – it is based on being a teacher and this should be the same for all teachers working in ECE.

One could reasonably expect that a teacher with the same experience, qualifications and responsibilities would be paid the same, no matter which part of the sector they are in because:

  • early childhood teachers are required to undergo the same level and rigour of training as teachers who work in the primary and secondary school system;
  • the Teaching Council makes no distinction between teachers based on the setting they work in – a teacher is a teacher;
  • for certification, all teachers must undergo the same process and meet the same standards as set out by the Teaching Council;
  • working with young children is intellectually demanding and physically hard work, that requires tremendous knowledge, skill, sensitivity and care – and no less important than working with older children; and
  • some qualified ECE teachers (those working in kindergartens) already have pay parity with primary teachers.

The early foundations of learning for children are vitally important to get right. Quality teaching is a key lever for improving outcomes for diverse children (Ministry of Education Best Evidence Synthesis, Sarah Alexander, 2003). 

For the sake of our children and for quality early childhood education and care, all early childhood teachers need to be respected and paid a wage which reflects that they are teaching professionals.

Low wages and poor work conditions present greater risk of attracting and retaining only less competent or lower skilled staff (because better staff can go elsewhere to earn better wages). Quality teaching comes from having quality teachers.  Quality teachers can be lost from the profession, and the profession can fail to attract the best people as teachers, when pay and conditions do not reflect the demands and importance of the job.

Children’s relationships and trust in the adult are central to quality. As Dr Mary Moloney from Ireland said in an interview here in NZ on ECE teacher pay:  “No child should arrive in the morning at their service to find their key teacher or primary caregiver gone due to low pay and/or bad work conditions.”

Dealing with one transition can be hard on a child, dealing with multiple changes in teachers and relieving staff can be even more difficult.

Even when teachers stay in the sector, when they are disillusioned and overworked for the pay that they get, they can withdraw and disengage from children and from their work.

NZEI’s hard sell of ‘pay equity’ to achieve fair pay for ECE teachers

The video below is a Facebook presentation by NZEI staff and representatives on its view as to why “Pay Equity has the power and ability to shift pay in the sector.”   Listen, learn, and consider the arguments.

This all sounds good. But there are problems.

The pay equity approach is confrontational – it is about either agreeing or being threatened with litigation and court action.  Does such an approach sit comfortably with you?  In contrast, collective contracts are much simpler and can be updated.

Preparing and winning a pay equity case is a very slow-moving process. This could make the government and some employers happy because they will not need to give wage increases until (if) a pay equity is won.  But, how long can teachers and our sector wait? It has taken NZEI 2 years just to gather information.  Comparators (male occupations) have yet to be established, the Ministry of Education is yet to be involved and negotiations have yet to start. 

A pay equity claim needs to be supported by employers.  But on its website NZEI states that so far only one ECE service provider Childspace (4 centres) has signed up, along with four employer groups because this was built into their collective agreement negotiations (ECECA, Barnardos, Salvation Army and kindergarten support staff).

NZEI claims that pay equity costs will be funded by the government – which is not entirely accurate.  There were three ways that funds were gained to cover the increased costs for employers of aged care workers due to the pay equity settlement:  1) government lifting the funding rate to service providers, 2) residents above the threshold for government subsidy paying an increase in fees, and 3) ACC funding to clients.

Finding a male dominated occupation that requires at least a level 7 qualification and professional registration, and includes emotional labour (as mentioned in the NZEI video see above) along with other similar skills, responsibilities, efforts and conditions will be difficult because of the very small pool of similar occupations.  The best way to go would be to compare ECE teachers with primary and secondary teachers.  But pay equity is about gender so the comparator has to be with a male dominated occupation(s).

Some professions that are like ECE teaching in requiring qualifications at least at Level 7 and professional certification are:

  • Engineers and accountants – but how many nappies do engineers and accountants change?  What proportion of their work is emotional labour?
  • Nurses – but in 2017 of the 50,000 registered nurses in NZ 9% were men and so this is not a male dominated occupation.
  • Lawyers – but law is becoming a female dominated profession.  As at 1 February 2019, 51.3% of NZ-based lawyers were women. “the proportion of women in the profession is increasing by over one percent each year. Given that over 60% of new lawyers admitted each year are women, it is likely that if all the current factors continue, women will make up around 60% of the profession by 2030” (Law Talk, Issue No. 926)

Teaching staff in kindergartens have had pay parity with primary since 2002.  Unfortunately, recent negotiations between NZEI, the Ministry of Education, and kindergarten employers for a new Kindergarten Teacher collective agreement did not include support for the same to be extended to teachers working in similarly managed community not-for-profit early childhood centres. 

Implications for recruiting and retaining teachers who are men 

Should a pay equity case be won for qualified and certificated teachers this will forever cement ECE teaching as a women’s occupation. It will also give a clear message to the sons, brothers, fathers, of early childhood teachers and all males in NZ society that ECE teaching is a female preserve only. Any man taking up ECE teaching may at best hope to be treated as an honorary female. 

Implications for achieving parity once a pay equity claim is resolved

Pay equity is not a step or a mechanism for achieving pay parity.

It will make it much more difficult to ever get pay parity. The government and employers will say “you went for pay equity and won so clearly low pay is about gender”, and “you have confirmed by lobbying for pay equity that teaching young children is not on the same level as work in primary and secondary.”

Implications for addressing the status of ECE and unequal treatment of teachers

When (if) pay equity is achieved, this will have no effect on the status of ECE in our education system. On the other hand, pay parity would have a positive effect as it would mean ECE teachers are recognised as being on par with teachers in schools. 

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