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Closing the Pacific Pay Gap

Closing the Pacific Pay Gap

  • 25 Oct 2022
PPG launch 3

(Picture caption: Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo and Minister for Women Hon Jan Tinetti with Voices of Pacific people: eliminating pay gaps at the launch event in Wellington.)

The Pacific Pay Gap Inquiry report Voices of Pacific people: eliminating pay gaps has been handed to government, 50 years since the Equal Pay Act 1972 was passed.

The law is instrumental in ensuring the legal right to equal pay for equal work in Aotearoa and while the global fight for equality in the workforce is ongoing, the Equal Pay Act continues to move this country towards achieving equal pay and pay equity.

However, in the report launched on October 19 at Parliament by Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo, it shows Pacific workers are still undeniably affected by workplace inequalities.

Commissioner Sumeo defines the Pacific Pay Gap as the difference in pay between Pacific workers and Pākehā men. 

Key findings for Pacific workers in the report include prejudice against Pacific names and undervaluing of qualifications and work experience; a lack of pay transparency; and feeling worthy of more pay and development opportunities but not knowing how to approach managers about it. 

Last week, ahead of the actual report launch, Commissioner Sumeo presented how the inquiry sheds light on the lived experiences of Pacific workers while also exploring what government, employers and unions need to do to urgently address pay inequity.

“These very personal stories and experiences of Pacific workers are deeply heart-breaking,” Commissioner Sumeo says.

“For the first time, many of them have opened up or revisited old wounds, but in the process, they have also felt seen, reassured, and validated about their tragic experiences of workplace discrimination and racism.

“Research through our inquiry provides evidence that racism, unconscious bias and workplace discriminatory practices are some of the reasons why Pacific workers are being held back from realising their full potential in the workplace.

“We are not living up to the promises of equality, dignity and everyone having a fair go.”

Employers have told the inquiry there are both systemic and personal drivers for the Pacific Pay Gap.

Many feel collective bargaining could make a difference in reducing pay gaps, suggesting Pacific workers could take collective action where possible.

Pacific workers have also shared aspirations for themselves and their families and solutions to the Pacific Pay Gap in the report. 

Voices of Pacific people: eliminating pay gaps lays out the challenge, framework, and recommendations to close the Pacific Pay Gap in the next 20 years.

Commissioner Sumeo says she is hopeful the Pacific Pay Gap can be closed by 2042.

“The recommendations to urgently introduce legislation requiring pay transparency, lifting the minimum wage to the living wage, and expanding the prohibited grounds in the Equal Pay Act to also include ethnicity and disability will transform the lives of all workers across Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Our inquiry into the Pacific Pay Gap has exposed legislative and policy gaps, business leadership invisibility and systemic indifference to pay inequity based on ethnicity that has perpetuated inequality, unfairness, discrimination, and hardship in the lives of Pacific peoples.

“As EEO Commissioner, I’m confident the protection and realisation of basic human rights for Pacific peoples will lead to overall benefits for all New Zealanders,” she adds.

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Director of Policy Leilani Unasa was part of the Pacific Pay Gap Inquiry Reference Group, along with Brett O’Riley – CEO, Employers and Manufacturers Association; Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga – General Practitioner and Fiji community leader; Lisa Tai – Partner and Pås Peau lead at Deloitte New Zealand; Leafaitulagi Leilani Tamu – Pacific Director, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment; and Magele Maria Uluilelata – New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.   

Leilani says MPP supports in-principle all the recommendations of the report.

“Some recommendations are already partially met through existing work programmes, and it is MPP’s aim to support greater behavioural change and practice in the private and public sector by leading work to embed Pacific values and principles into their organisations,” she explains.  

“Education and capability-building (as well as regulatory change or investment) is a key part of the mix of tools available to create equal employment opportunities for Pacific peoples, and work towards eliminating the Pacific pay gap.”


The Pacific Pay Gap Inquiry was conducted between August 2021 and July 2022 through a broad and diverse combination of approaches, like surveys, submissions, face-to-face workshops, webinars, and Talanoa.

It engaged approximately 1,200 individuals, including Pacific workers, employers, and union members from across the New Zealand economy.

A total of 738 responses from workers and 16 responses from employers via surveys were received.

Additionally, there were 425 oral contributions from workers, 24 employers, four unions and one peak body.

While the Inquiry focused on three key industries where Pacific workers are concentrated: manufacturing, construction, and health, an overwhelming response from workers in a range of other industries like education, finance, retail, social work, and public service were also received.

The  findings, therefore, reflect the wide range of employment experiences shared with the Inquiry team.