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Liz Gordon International Women's Day Speech

Liz Gordon MP
Speech Notes

Good morning, and happy International Women's Day to you all.

On this day in 1897 a group of women garment workers staged a protest against the inhumane working conditions and low wages they faced in the New York textile industry.

Police quickly dispersed this protest, but two years later these women regrouped to form their first labour union in a bid to win some basic workplace rights.

Almost a century and a half later here we are, still echoing our great grandmothers' call for bread and roses – basic economic security and a quality of life that reflects our experiences as women, particularly as working women.

Simply stated, our ongoing struggle for equal rights is one for participation and against discrimination. Fundamental to this is the recognition of the economic cost working women are still expected to bear simply because we have babies.

When we see a ramp leading up to the entrance of a factory we are looking at a very concrete symbol of the struggle for participation and against discrimination.

By putting this ramp in place the employer has made it possible for a person in a wheelchair to gain access to the factory and get a job.

You or I may not need to use the ramp, but do we complain? No. After all, the ramp isn't there to exclude us. Neither do we expect the taxpayer to foot the bill for the ramp – or the person in the wheelchair.

Paid Parental Leave and other steps to address the needs of working parents are simply ramps of different kind. Without them full and equal participation in employment will not be a reality for mothers.

As you know, the Labour-Alliance coalition is working towards a government position on Paid Parental Leave.

The Alliance stands firm on its belief that Paid Parental Leave is an employment right, and as such employers should help meet the cost of a scheme that gives new parents a decent living wage.

Labour favours a scheme that is phased in over time and funded from general taxation.

Alliance policy is for 12 weeks, simply because when we were developing our position this was the ILO minimum. Now that it has been increased to 14 weeks the benchmark we set is likely to shift accordingly.

This is not an issue that should be won or lost because of party politics. We need to take a step back from the brouhaha that has erupted over the possibility of a minimal employer levy and refocus our attention on making sure we give babies the best possible start in life.

My Alliance colleague Laila Harré has suggested this could be achieved through an objective investigation into the way different funding mechanisms have worked in practice overseas, where many of the most successful schemes have a degree of employer funding.

I want to end by drawing attention to another fight working women have not won. For more than ten years, women have been pouring out of the universities in greater numbers and with better qualifications than men.

The main employer of these bright young women is the state sector. It is shocking that the gender pay gap in that sector not only has not closed, but is opening wider.

The average male worker in the core state sector earns $13,000 more each year than his female counterpart. This pay gap extends across all occupational groups. Teacher or solicitor, health worker or policy analyst, all women in the state sector suffer, as a group, pay discrimination.

So today I also join university women around the country's call for more rights for working women, and applaud their stand.

Through the New Zealand Student's Association, these women are challenging the government to take action on paid parental leave and pay equity. and are simply asking that the policies we put in place reflect the fact that ALL women are working women.

Thank you, and I wish you well for today's rally and your ongoing campaign for paid parental leave.

Further comment: Dr Liz Gordon, 025 545 008

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