Women-dominated professions get paid less regardless of the skills required, the College of Midwives chief executive says.
The organisation was today filing a High Court action against the government, arguing midwives are being paid less because they are women. It is bringing the case under the Bill of Rights Act.
The Careers New Zealand website puts estimated earnings of self-employed midwives at between $70,000 and $150,000 a year; citing as sources district health boards, the Nurses Organisation and the College of Midwives.
But the college's chief executive, Karen Guilliland, said that was "smoke and mirrors" and most midwives ended up with half that amount in actual wages.
She said because of the way their contracts are structured, a midwife had to pay for a replacement if they get sick or can't work.
"There's so many anomalies in the way in which midwives are paid so the hundred thousand [dollars] is complete smoke and mirrors. It's not what the midwife ends up with. She ends up with about $53,000 - before tax."
Comparing midwifery with other occupations was alarming, she said.
"We're highly skilled, highly educated, we take on enormous responsibility - life and death responsibility - and actually office management, office project managers, get paid more than we do."
Caregiver Kristine Bartlett successfully argued in the Employment Court two years ago that her $14.32 hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act.
Ms Bartlett told Morning Report she was confident the midwives' case would succeed.
It was an important step forward, and women should band together in support because they deserved to be treated equally, she said, adding that women were often taken for granted in the workplace and expected not to complain.
The College of Midwives says the professions' pay structure has not changed in 19 years.
Kim Campbell, head of employers' group Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association, said the government should take up the issue rather than leaving it to the courts, especially for occupations that are largely government-funded.