The New Zealand Working Women’s Charter – A Celebration

This is the charter that was adopted by the New Zealand Federation of Labour in 1980.

1. The right to work for everyone who wishes to do so.
2. The elimination of all discrimination on the basis of sex, race, marital or parental status, sexuality or age.
3. Equal pay for work of equal value – meaning the same total wage plus other benefits.
4. Equal opportunity of entry into occupations and of promotion regardless of sex, sexuality, marital or parental status, race or age.
5. Equal education opportunities for all.
6. (a) Union meetings to be held in working hours
(b) Special trade union education courses for women unionists to be held with paid time off for participants
7. Equal access to vocational guidance and training, including on the job training, study and conference leave.
8. Introduction of a shorter working week with no loss of pay, flexible working hours, part-time opportunities, for all workers.
9. Improved working conditions for women and men. The retention of beneficial provision which apply to women. Other benefits to apply equally to men and women.
10. Removal of legal, bureaucratic and other impediments to equality in superannuation, social security benefits, credit, finance, taxation, tenancies, and other related matters.
11. Special attention to the needs and requirements of women from ethnic communities as they see them.
12. Wide availability of quality child care with Government and/or community support for all those who need it, on a 24-hour basis, including after school and school holiday care.
13. Introduction of adequate paid parental leave (maternity and paternity leave) without loss of job security, superannuation or promotion prospects.
14. Availability of paid family leave to enable time off to be taken in family emergencies, e.g. when children or elderly relatives are ill.
15. Sex education and birth control advice freely available to all people. Legal, financial, social and medical impediments to safe abortion, contraception and sterilisation to be removed.
16. Comprehensive government funded research into health questions specific to women.

Reading through the list, it’s impressive that so many of these ideals have been realised, at least formally, in New Zealand law and employment practice. But at the same time, it’s a little shattering to realise that in some ways we are still fighting the same battles that women were fighting thirty years ago. Take a look at item 16: we still have medical barriers to abortion, imposed by individual doctors, and by the requirement for women to get two doctors to give consent to abortion. The formal barriers there have not yet been removed. Or look at item 10. Although the legal impediments to equality in superannuation have been removed, the patterns of working women’s lives, with many years taken out for child bearing and child rearing, and more taken out in order to care for other family members, all of it unrecognised as work of value, means that women have less opportunity to save for their old age, and older women figure disproportionally in poverty statistics.

For all that, what a long way we have come. My daughters will grow up with so much more freedom, so many more real choices, because of the work that was done by people like Sonja Davies and Margaret Wilson and Liane Dalziel and Anne Else and Dale Williams. For the story behind the charter, and an account of what conditions were like for women in the years leading up to its adoption, read this piece by Sue Kedgley, The Working Women’s Charter, from a feminist perspective.

The Labour History Project is running a seminar to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Working Women’s Charter, Working Women: Learning from the Past Looking to the Future, on the 1st of May, May Day, in Wellington. You can download the registration form: PDF (2.1mb) here.


2 responses to “The New Zealand Working Women’s Charter – A Celebration

  1. Blimey that startled me.
    It doesn’t seem so long ago that we held the launch party/fundraiser in Thorndon for the charter, but I guess you are right, it was 30 years.
    I was telling fortunes there in heavy disguise as Gypsy Rose Bush. It was quite a party. Feminists did have fun. There were a lot of us involved. I recall Sue Piper and Mary Sinclair there, among others. Mike Bungay too.

    It seemed an impossible lot of aims at the time, so it’s good that, as you note, we have actually made a bit of progress since. But we used to believe then, and I still do now, that social progress is not something that is delivered on a silver tray or arrives through the post – it’s the result of a LOT of struggle and repetitive demands, and creeps in by small incremental steps. Virtue is not its own reward – nagging helps a lot.

    I can never understand why nagging gets such a bad press!

  2. I was at a house meeting that Sonja attended in Upper Hutt, probably around 1979, and I remember the Women’s Branch of the Labour Party organising a big day at Taita about the Charter – hundreds of women turned up, Christians, lesbians, socialist – all shapes and sizes. It’s a sad thing is that these battles are still being fought – even the things that were won are still being contested. But even sadder is that some young women are completely ignorant of the things that Sue Kedgely writes about, and take what freedoms they have entirely for granted.