In the news over the weekend: midwives are taking a pay equity case.
College chief executive Karen Guilliland said discrimination against midwives had actually worsened. “This claim has been almost 20 years in the making. The legal action will have global ramifications.”
Self-employed midwives typically look after about 50 expectant mums a year and are paid about $100,000 annually by the ministry, but earn an average of $53,000 before tax because of various expenses they have to cover as a business, and their wages do not increase to match their experience.
That’s a low salary. The starting rate for graduates coming out with shiny new business degrees is around $42,000. That’s for people who have little to no experience, and who are working standard business hours.
The College of Midwives has developed this set of comparisons (source – pdf 450kb).
It’s not just that midwives aren’t paid well. Their pay rates haven’t risen significantly for years and years. Since 2007, their pay has gone up about 2.5%. In that time, inflation has been around 17.5%.
Here’s a comparison with pay increases for other health professionals over that time.
No matter which way you cut, slice and dice it, midwives are underpaid.
Why does this happen? Well, I’m guessing that it’s like so many other female dominated professions: midwives are underpaid because they are women. It’s a classic pay equity case. The evidence is even reasonably clear. Back when medical doctors commonly provided maternity and delivery care, the pay rates weren’t too bad. But in 1993, midwives started to be paid the same as medical doctors for maternity and delivery care. More midwives entered the profession, medical doctors left, and pay rates stagnated (data available here: pdf 450kb). To me, that says that as men left the profession, it was possible to pay less and less and less, because women are paid less. That’s all there is to it.
Anyone who disputes the claim that women are paid less might want to take a look at some of Professor Marilyn Waring’s work. I especially recommend Counting for Nothing.
But what has our Prime Minister got to say about it?
Apparently it’s not sexism. It’s just that:
One of the arguments is, well at least the case that people put up, is is it because they are women that the pay is slightly less or is it because that’s what the job pays. It depends on which perspective you take,” Mr Key said.
So… women are paid less because that’s what they’re paid.
Expanding on that a little, he also said:
And it depends on which perspective that you take – so some professions which are dominated by men will have higher pay, and the argument is, is it because that’s what’s demanded of that particular job?
I’m finding it a little hard to work out exactly what he means,* but what I think he’s getting at is that jobs dominated by men are paid more because the job demands more.
But that’s exactly the point of the pay equity exercise. Midwives’ jobs are tough and demanding, but somehow, the job is not as well paid as other tough and demanding jobs that are typically done by men. Hence the need for a pay equity case.
And if that’s not sexism, I don’t know what is. I understand that Mr Key can’t admit that on air, but it would be good if he could at least demonstrate that he understands the nature of the claim that midwives are making.
On the positive side, he’s waiting for the court process to come up with an answer. So are we all.
*NB: it’s challenging to come up with perfectly formed sentences live on air.