Resisting Inequality in Care Regimes? Collective Actions and Regulatory Response to Care Work in New Zealand

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.2.04 (Tower One)
Katherine Ravenswood, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
Since the 1970s in New Zealand, women have entered the paid work force in ever increasing numbers. The introduction of the Maternity Leave and Employment Protection Act 1980 saw considerable debate over women’s primary role and whether it should be looking after family, or if paid work was acceptable for women (Ravenswood & Kennedy, 2012). Some of these debates centred upon gendered perceptions of care work. Indeed, it has been argued that care work has been marginalised and undervalued firstly as domestic, unpaid work and then as paid work (Palmer & Eveline, 2012; Folbre & Nelson, 2000).

New Zealand finally introduced paid parental leave in 2004 (Ravenswood, 2008), however paid parental leave strongly privileges those in permanent and regular paid work. It also prioritises paid work over unpaid care work. At the same time, paid care work has been de-valued, with hourly wages for non-professional carers tracking around the minimum wage for several decades. This creates a hierarchy of paid care work over unpaid (family) care work, both of which are under-valued, and continues the same old debates of what is a woman’s role that preceded the first maternity leave legislation.

There are signs of resistance to these care regimes in New Zealand. In the last few years both unions and civil society organisations have taken legal action that challenges the inequality created by gendered perceptions of care work (both paid and unpaid).

This paper looks at three recent landmark regulatory changes in New Zealand resulting from union and civil society organisation collective action in paid and unpaid care work:

  • A legal decision under the Equal Pay Act 1972, in residential aged care work.
  • Policy changes to address payment for work travel time of community based paid carers.
  • The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Act (No 2) 2013 allowing payment to family carers (previously unpaid) of their adult disabled children.

These regulatory changes have resulted in potential and actual improvements in working conditions, but also have challenged gendered perceptions of both informal and formal care. This paper examines these three changes, questioning:

  • Who is impacted by inequality in care regimes?
  • How and when have union and civil society organisations resisted the inequality?
  • What has been the regulatory response to these challenges?

Folbre, N., & Nelson, J. A. (2000). For Love or Money--Or Both? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(4), 123–140.

Palmer, E., & Eveline, J. (2012). Sustaining low pay in aged care work. Gender, Work and Organization, 19(3), 254–275. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0432.2010.00512.x

Ravenswood, K. (2008). The role of the State in family-friendly policy: An analysis of Labour-led government policy. New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations, 33(3), 34–44.

Ravenswood, K., & Kennedy, A. M. (2012). From unpaid maternity leave to paid parental leave in New Zealand: changing approaches in legislation. Labour History, 102(May), 197–213.