On the Christchurch deal, and sexist dinosaurs

Clearly, the deal put on the table for Christchurch yesterday by the government has to be only an opening bid, not a final resolution. Those in the red zone areas will have nine months to consider two options – (a) to sell their house and land back to the government at the 2007 valuation or (b) sell only the land, and negotiate separately with insurers over the cost of rebuilding elsewhere.

The limited availability of sections in the short to medium term, and the inflationary impact of the likely rush of demand on land prices and building materials will mean that the fiscal envelope for this exercise will have to remain open – to some extent – if significant hardship is to be avoided. As with the leaky homes solution, there will have to be some flexibility on meeting genuine need.

For now, it also seems inexplicable that parts of Sumner have not been added to the red zone. Moreover, the fate of businesses located in the red zone has also been left for now in the ‘too hard’ basket. What will be the terms of the deal to be offered to them?

In some respects the current inhabitants of the 5,000 homes in the red zone will serve as guinea pigs for the much larger group of people judged yesterday to be in orange zone housing. For those people in the orange zone, if entry to the terms available to the red zone is to be on a case by case basis, there will need to be far greater clarity and genuine consultation as to how this evaluation is to be carried out.

As this process unfolds, the suitability of someone of Gerry Brownlee’s prickly temperament being empowered to wield the vast powers entrusted to the Earthquake Recovery Minister once again came under the spotlight, in a testy interview on RNZ this morning. Brownlee seemed incapable, for instance, of grasping that it is legitimate to query whether the likes of ANZ should be using the vulnerability of Christchurch residents to tout for business.

To date, the banks have been conspicuously absent – as good corporate citizens – from solutions to the crisis in Christchurch. At best, they have offered only temporary relief, and sweetener deals with the same profit-taking merely deferred, until later in the mortgage cycle. Government appears to have failed to manage the banks into any genuine, collective and non-predatory response to Christchurch’s needs.


Illustration by Tim Denee – Sexist dinosaur, Alasdair Thompson
Illustration by Tim Denee – www.timdenee.com

The Wages of Menstruation

The attempt by Employers and Manufacturers Association Alasdair Thompson to justify the chronic wage gap between men and women – on the grounds of that women are less productive because they menstruate – has been a bizarre, but useful revelation. Every now and then, the curtain drops on the carefully media-trained facade of the power structures in society, allowing ordinary citizens a brief glimpse of the bigotry that lies beneath.

One can safely bet that if Thompson does ultimately lose his job, it will be for being indiscrete, and not for the actual views he espoused. Therefore, one will be looking for signs of how the organization retracts, apologises and distances itself from its CEO in the coming days. It is after all, an association – what are the views of the captains of industry that Thompson purports to represent? How did the likes of Karen Walker concentrate long enough to produce those designs?

One of the ways in which Thompson tried to limit the fallout from his asinine comments actually made things worse. In a subsequent press release, he argued that the Equal Pay Act must be working well because the gender pay gap – which is currently running at 12% – isn’t being contested in court.

“The Equal Pay Act 1972 already makes it illegal to pay a different rate to a man and a woman doing the same work at the same standard and if there was widespread discrimination you would expect to see numerous court cases under the Equal Pay Act – there aren’t.

Clearly, Thompson hasn’t learned a thing from the Employment Contracts Act episode. Any worker choosing to take their employer to court is at an obvious disadvantage in negotiating power and in the resources available to pay for court action – not to mention kissing their job goodbye, for daring to take their boss to court.

It gets worse. This week, the US Supreme Court tossed out an attempt by women workers at Walmart to bring a class action against the company’s systematic gender discrimination on pay and promotion. The conservative bloc of men – Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia and the swing voter, Kennedy – voted for Walmart, while the women (Sotomayer, Ginzburg, Kagan plus Stephen Breyer ) supported the workers. So much for going to court – even in the US, women workers haven’t even been allowed to get in the courtroom door.

According to Justice Antonin Scalia, the women didn’t have enough in common to be able to mount a valid class action. Here’s the gist of the arguments:

Majority author Antonin Scalia wrote, “In a company of Wal-Mart’s size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction… Respondents attempt to make that showing by means of statistical and anecdotal evidence, but their evidence falls well short,” Scalia wrote.

Dissenter Ruth Ginsburg wrote, “Women fill 70 percent of the hourly jobs in the retailer’s stores but make up only 33 percent of management employees.”

“The plaintiffs’ evidence, including class members’ tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture,” Ginsburg wrote.

In future, and thanks to Scalia and his colleagues, any minimum wage women workers who want to take on Walmart will have to do it individually, If they can’t afford to do so, then Scalia – like Alasdair Thompson here in New Zealand – will be able to argue that the lack of court action shows that there really isn’t a problem.

What those Walmart women had in common – besides working for a sexist corporation – was their gender. Or, in the New Zealand context, their tendency to menstruate. So far, Thompson has been unable to substantiate his claims about women and productivity. If all women menstruate and that undermines their productivity to the extent that justifies pay discrimination in the work place, you’d think it would be difficult to find any women afflicted with this allegedly crippling condition who could out-perform men in the workplace. Periods justify a 12% gender pay gap? And that’s even before you get to the gender gap evident in the nation’s boardrooms, and upper management levels.

In the circumstances, you’d think Thompson would be feeling a pressing obligation to produce the stats about women workers – right across the private sector that he represents – to back up his argument. It should be put up, or resign time.


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