Big pay gap for Māori and Pasifika at district health boards, new research shows

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Māori working at district health boards are 56 times less likely to earn more than $100,000 than other ethnic groups, while Pacific staff are 71 times less likely, according to new research by the Auckland University of Technology.

Silhouette of a doctor walking in a hurry in the hospital corridor.

Photo: 123RF

The study, published in the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, revealed stark pay disparities among senior management, despite the fact equal employment opportunity legislation has been embedded in New Zealand law for more than 30 years.

Retired public servant Georgina Kerr was “saddened but not surprised” by the ethnic pay gaps in the report.

“Over the years I’ve lost a lot of good friends who have moved on to other jobs because they have been cast aside and not been given the opportunities.

“I did eventually become a senior manager in my workplace and I did a good job.

“I could have done it 10 years earlier, but I got to that position a lot later than people I would have started with.”

Too many government departments wanted Māori employees leading pōwhiri and saying karakia at board meetings – but they did not actually make any effort to create an inclusive workplace, she said.

“Basically for many years public sector agencies have tended to treat the recruitment of Māori and Pasifika as a compliance or risk mitigation rather than a positive opportunity.

“And I know this because as an experienced public servant, I have seen and lived this over the years. We are seen as a kind of commodity.”

Kerr is part of the Public Service Association’s (PSA) Mana Wāhine Waitangi Tribunal claim against the Crown for bias and discrimination against Māori women in the workplace.

This follows a successful legal case taken by the PSA against the State Services Commission in 2016 to eliminate gender and ethnic pay disparities within the public service.

The union’s national secretary, Kerry Davies, said equal pay legislation alone was not enough.

“Once we get equal pay we also have to deal with the systemic issues about how workplaces operate in terms of their recruitment processes, how they operate progression, what is their remuneration? Do they offer discretionary pay systems which tend to reinforce discrimination?”

The PSA was now campaigning for pay transparency legislation, which would “shine a light” on inequities and make them easier to remedy, she said.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said the issue of ethnic pay gaps and the shortage of Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicities in leadership and management roles is an issue for all of New Zealand, not just the wider public sector or the public service itself.

“The focus of the public service in recent years has been to close the gender pay gap and get more women into senior leadership roles, and we have made significant progress.

“We are now focusing more on closing the ethnic pay gap.”

According to Te Kawa Mataaho, the Public Service Commission, the Māori pay gap closed from 11.2 percent in 2018 to 9.9 percent in 2019 while the Pacific pay gap closed slightly from 21.6 percent to 20.1 percent.

The head of AUT’s public health department Dr Heather Came, who led the new research, told Nine to Noon it was clear diversity programmes were not effective and a national plan was needed to purge institutional racism from the public sector.

“There’s been a lot of ad hoc efforts but I would like to see the implementation of the recommendation of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination from 2017 to ask our government to develop a national action plan to eliminate racism.

“And a key part of that is how are we going to eliminate institutional racism from within the public sector.”

The data showed at some points some district health boards and other government departments had no Māori or Pacific in senior leadership, she said.

“That’s staggering when we know that if we read any annual plan or strategy document that they’ll say they’re trying to be proactive in recruiting Māori and Pacific staff –

that’s often a key Treaty responsiveness strategy articulated by these DHBs. But there’s a gap in the rhetoric and the practice over decades.”

The workforce equities manager for Northland DHB, Dr Joy Panoho, said institutional racism was acknowledged and was part of everyday public sector discourse these days.

“However this is yet to drive tangible results in workplace equity, and indeed in health outcomes.”

Equal opportunity employment practice would remain just “a band aid” solution unless it was backed up by an overall commitment to address differential access, she said.

“When a hiring manager says I’m only going to employ someone if they’re good for the job, the assumption is that everyone has the same opportunity to apply for the job and we live in a meritocracy, which we don’t.

“If we all had the same opportunities, we would not see the occupational segregation that we see.”

A spokesperson for district health boards said increasing Māori participation in the workforce was a priority reflecting DHBs’ obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and their focus on equity.

Last year, DHB chief executives signed up to targets on Māori workforce participation.

The latest reports on those targets will be available in a few weeks.

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