Nancy McShane, the Public Service Association, and Equal Pay Campaign

The Public Service Association (PSA) is the largest and oldest union in New Zealand currently with 80,000 members, over 70% of whom are female. At its founding in 1913, the PSA adopted the principle: “Women members shall enjoy the same rights and privileges as male members.” The union has a long history of supporting women’s rights and fighting for equal pay. The role of the union was invaluable for winning the fight for equal pay for health administrators this fall.

In 2008 the incoming National-led government decided not to fulfill the previous Labour-led government’s promise for adjusting pay rates for all women working in District Health Board (DHB) administrative jobs, and they halted the process that had already started with the North Island’s DHBs. As a result, the South Island rates of pay for DHB hospital administrators remained lower than for those in the North Island. That same year Nancy McShane became a Public Service Association (PSA) delegate and a mental health administrator at the Canterbury DHB. She discovered that women working in health administration had been underpaid for some time and they did not believe the DHBs could change that. Nancy told her story recently at a meeting of the NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch, detailing her work for the DHB Administrators’ Equal Pay claim. She commented: 

With my rose coloured glasses on I said: ‘Of course we can change that!’ and here we are thirteen years later. If I had known how long it was going to take to change things, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to pursue it…. It has been an interesting journey and one I have grown through hugely, but it has been far and beyond what I thought I would have to do.

She could see the effects of low rates of pay as women worked to meet the challenges of lack of housing and rent rises, especially after the earthquakes in Christchurch. Initially, Nancy spoke to management about the inequities, but there seemed to be no action taken. By this time Nancy also became Convenor of the PSA Women’s Network. She believed that in that role she could highlight the issues for all women in public service who are underpaid, especially in the private sector where women often have fewer opportunities to be in a union and make collective claims. 

When the National Government proposed to disestablish the Equal Pay Act 1972, the PSA Women’s Network lobbied the opposition parties. Nancy remembered that her message was: “What do you want to be remembered for? There are key moments in NZ history that articulate who we are as a people … they are history changing and the next one of those moments is going to be equal pay.” Nancy spoke about the women coming to meetings on equal pay and their negative response to the possible disestablishment of the Equal Pay Act. She said, “something in them just snaps.” Equal pay became a pivotal issue in the 2017 election; and a Labour-led government was the outcome.

In 2018 the PSA provided submissions supporting the government’s effort to strengthen the Equal Pay Act. Nancy had an opportunity to speak to the Select Committee as part of the PSA oral submission. Nancy told the NCWNZ branch members: “We were encouraged to speak from a personal perspective and when you are encouraged to lay out things about your personal life and how chronic low pay has impacted you or those you work with that can be a very raw and challenging experience.” Nancy spoke about women hospital administrators who have lost teeth because they can’t afford necessary dentistry. Some are at risk of losing their homes because they cannot afford their mortgage payments and many are managing on their own with children to support. “They are doing work that ensures that the well-being of others is maintained. They give so much to this work, and yet their own well-being is compromised because of their low pay.” The Equal Pay Amendment Act was finally passed and claims such as the landmark DHB’s Administrators’ Equal Pay Claim are finally moving forward. 

Nancy McShane and PSA colleagues celebrate winning equal pay claim, June 2022
PSA DHB Admin Equal Pay claim bargaining representative, Nancy McShane, with fellow PSA DHB Sector Committee members and staff, celebrating the long-awaited settlement of the PSA DHB Admin Equal Pay Claim at PSA House, Wellington, 9 June 2022, with a “Worth 100%” cake.
Front Row (L-R): Sue McCullough, PSA National Organiser; Nia Bartley, DHB Sector Committee (Wellington); Nancy McShane, DHB Sector Committee (Women’s Network seat); Ashok Shankar, PSA National Organiser.
Second row (R-L): PSA National Secretaries, Duane Leo (in red) and Kerry Davies (in white) and DHB Sector Committee Co-Convenor, Stacey Muir (in pink) with other PSA DHB Sector Committee members and staff cheering behind them.

DHBs and the PSA settled the pay equity claim for Administration and Clerical Workers on 16 May 2022. This is the first settlement under the 2020 Equal Pay Amendment Act. The agreement covers more than 10,000 administration and clerical workers across the country’s 20 DHBs – union and non-union members. The new pay system provides a standard structure for more than 1500 roles across the 20 DHBs with previously widely variable rates. Under the equal pay settlement, DHB administrative workers will receive a significant increase in their pay. From July 2022, DHB Administrators are due to start receiving their Equal Pay, with an initial lump sum payment of $2,500, followed soon after by progression onto their new Equal Pay scale rates.

This will make an enormous difference to their lives. DHB Allied workers (including social workers, occupational therapists, and other allied health professionals) are also negotiating an equal pay claim and the settlement for DHB administrators can be used as a lever in their negotiations. There is a need for increased awareness about the importance of these very different occupations for the delivery of good health services in Aotearoa New Zealand. The health system is under threat and there are consequences not just for the staff in that system, but for everyone using health services. 

In her talk at the Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch meeting, Nancy emphasised that she appreciated NCW members asking what they could do to help with equal pay claims.  She said the key thing members could do was to help educate the public about all the other highly feminised roles in healthcare besides nursing.  The public understand what nurses do and are supportive of them being paid fairly, but all the other highly feminized roles in health are still largely invisible to the public - administrators, social workers, occupational therapists, dentists, lab technicians, anaesthetists, etc.  She said our hospitals are run on the backs of female labour.  Nancy told the Christchurch NCWNZ members:

“By talking to friends and family about these highly feminised roles, NCW members will be helping to ensure fairer pay outcomes for all healthcare workers.  It is important that we have these conversations right now, in the middle of this pandemic, when the public eye is very much focused on our health system.  It will be equally important to continue talking about these highly feminised roles in the lead up to the election as well, as the public begin to consider how they will vote."

For Further Reading:

Cate Broughton, “Planned health strike ‘about safety,” Stuff (11 August 2014): https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/10369041/Planned-health-strike-about-safety

“Equal Pay legislation will strengthen the fight against sexist discrimination,” News & Media, PSA (23 June 2020): https://www.psa.org.nz/our-voice/equal-pay-legislation-will-strengthen-the-fight-against-sexist-discrimination/.

“Fair Pay Agreements Bill 115-1,” New Zealand Parliament: https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2022/0115/latest/whole.html.

"Fair Pay Agreements - An Update," Holland Beckett Law (19 April 2022): https://hobec.co.nz/news-resources/2022/april/fair-pay-agreements-an-update.

“Petition of Nancy McShane: Equal Pay for DHB Administration Workers,” Reports, New Zealand Parliament (25 February 2021): https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/sc/reports/document/SCR_108154/petition-of-nancy-mcshane-equal-pay-for-dhb-administration.

“Administration and Clerical Pay Equity,” TAS [Technical Advisory Services Ltd.] (14 June 2022): https://tas.health.nz/employment-and-capability-building/pay-equity/administration-and-clerical-pay-equity.


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