Bread and roses: new policies support better work, more life

Public Service Association members this week celebrate new milestones in the struggle for gender equality and dignity for working people, with the introduction of 26 weeks paid parental leave and the commitment by core government agencies to support flexible working arrangements for all staff.

Years of campaigning by unions and community organisations have led to a policy and attitude shift, with greater recognition for the importance of unpaid work and a government commitment to end the gender pay gap among public servants.

PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay notes that while women take responsibility for most family care, these new policies will enable anyone of any gender to work productively without sacrificing the commitments and passions that make us human.

“More paid parental leave will immediately benefit mothers, but we want the discussion to move further than this. Whatever our gender, most of us have been forced to choose between our jobs, our careers, and other parts of life we care about. Sometimes that choice was unnecessary, based on an outdated understanding of what work should look like or how society should be organised,” says Mr Barclay.

“Whatever our calling, all working people deserve relationships of trust in our personal and professional lives. Most of us do our best work when we know our job won’t cut us off from the things that matter most, whether that’s our children, sports, cultural or religious activities.”

Workers who take time off or request flexible working arrangements often suffer for it with stalled careers, low pay and social stigma.

Perversely, the disproportionate burden of family care borne by women can also contribute to negative attitudes and institutional obstacles when men ask workplaces for arrangements to help them be more involved.

The PSA commends the government for cementing in place measures that will improve the lives of thousands, challenge gender inequality and normalise a shift to work-life balances that benefit all parties.

“Over a hundred years ago, women on strike in Chicago raised banners that said we want bread, and we want roses too. Those brave women shared a vision of a world where work is safe and fairly paid, and just one part of a happy and meaningful life,” says Mr Barclay.

“Workplaces should help staff balance productive employment with the many other ways we contribute to society. Lockdown was not an ideal example of this balance being struck, but it did prove how many of us can work effectively and productively without being herded into a particular building, shut off from our loved ones. Even in difficult times, New Zealanders can be proud we continue to make progress.”

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