The Jean Parker Case (Chapter 4 of my history honours dissertation)

The Jean Parker Case

The push for equal pay within the PSA was still not universally accepted by the mid-1950s. In 1957 some departmental representatives from Auckland collected signatures against equal pay which they forwarded to the PSA head office and the Public Service Commission.[1] One young draughtsman wrote to his superiors distancing himself from the PSA campaign claiming that no man would ever like to work under a women.[2] Not all opposition was as strong as this, but others did not see the equal pay campaign as one the union should prioritise. PSA General Secretary Jack Turnbull thought the more imperative social priority was to make improvements to the family benefit rather than focus on equal pay.[3] Turnbull supported removing the salary cap for women in the public service but was not an enthusiastic supporter of the calls, and had until 1955 been frustrated that those in the union who supported equal pay had no proposed partial measures to achieve it.[4] However, having worked with women in public hospitals, Turnbull experienced how the public service was undervaluing women’s labour.[5] From this Turnbull become a more enthusiastic advocate for this cause.

Parker poster2
A flyer for the Jean Parker case

International developments such as the ILO Convention and the introduction of equal for the British Civil Service did begin to influence opinion. One international influence on PSA women was the Pan Pacific Women’s conference which New Zealand hosted in Christchurch in January 1952.[6]  New Zealand women had participated in Pan Pacific gatherings since 1928.[7] International speakers such as E Blyth one of the Australian delegates who reported on developments at the United Nations (UN) and the ILO.[8] Other speeches from this conference reported that equal pay existed in Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, Ceylon and Vietnam.[9] Australia and New Zealand were among the few countries represented at this conference where equal work was not rewarded with equal pay.[10]

In August 1955 the PSA held its first Women’s Conference which was organised by the PSA Equal Pay Committee.[11] Grace du Faur a committee member who later was to become chair of the Equal Pay Council tells of the marvellous help given by Bill Sutch of the Department of Industry and Commerce. Grace applauded Sutch for taking an unpopular line and supporting this with crucial research material.[12] Sutch’s paper Economic Effects of Equal pay in New Zealand produced data showing that most men in employment were not supporting a family with their wages. Further that a great number of women in the workforce were in fact supporting dependants, directly challenging the theory of male workers being the breadwinner. Jim Fergusson who at the time was PSA Vice President and a year later became President recalled the impact the data had on the campaign. Only 46 percent of married men and widowers were supporting families according to Sutch’s research, and the number of male ‘breadwinners’ as a percentage was even lower when single men were added to the mix.[13] Margaret, Long was one of the key organisers of the conference. Aside from the paper, Sutch is said to have provide considerable anonymous support and advice to the conference organisers. Long and Sutch knew each other previously from involvement in various human rights organisations. One piece of advice Long remembers Sutch giving her was to not drink alcohol until after she had spoken to the press at the end of the conference.[14]

Sutch told the conference that in the English speaking world there had been considerable acceptance of equal pay for men and women.[15] Sutch specifically gave the examples from Britain and Canada along with other European nations who made advances towards equal pay. These International developments added momentum for similar moves to occur in New Zealand. Litigation was a feature in British campaign, and this example was looked at by activists in the PSA. Prior to the Parker case the PSA had unsuccessfully taken the Moss case to the Supreme Court (the equivalent of the modern New Zealand High Court).[16] In this case the PSA had attempted to put female public servants on the same basis of seniority as men.[17] Seniority for men in the public service at this time meant moving up pay grades. However, for women there was a salary cap so length of service was not rewarded in the same way for female public servants. While the Moss case was unsuccessful, the case was useful to the PSA because the judge advised that the Public Service Appeal Board to challenge female salary caps in the public service.[18]

The PSA then began to encourage women to take cases to the Public Service Appeal board. A leaflet was produced by the PSA advising women in the how to do this.[19] Women were informed that if they were barred at £575, £615 or £665 per annum, and were “officers” at the relevant times had a right of appeal against the appointment of any male appointed with a maximum salary of £705.[20] Again the focus of this call to action was in support of rate for the job meaning salary bands should not be different for men and women. Jim Ferguson believed that, had the PSA tried to push not just for this, but work of equal value as the ILO convention had allowed, this would have made it easier for the government to reject equal pay calls. He and others involved were, however aware of the challenges this posed for female dominated occupations such as typists.[21]

In response, seventy women lodged appeals against male appointees.[22] However, due to the way the appeal process worked, the PSA was aware that a potential response from the Public Service Commission would be to reduce the salary of the women taking the appeal. After a period of negotiation with the Public Service Commission, the PSA decided to proceed with two cases to the Appeals Board, that of Mrs Parker and Mrs A.E Millar.[23]  Jean Parker was a 25 year-old clerk at Inland Revenue who supported her husband while he studied medicine at Otago University.[24] Margaret Long describes Inland Revenue along with the Social Welfare Department as being ghettos for women workers where women would be put in charge of others but not financially rewarded for the extra responsibilities.[25] Parker had eight staff reporting to her, yet her seniority and responsibility in the department did not exempt her from a salary cap placed on female but not male employees.[26] The case was taken by the PSA on behalf of Parker, because she was being paid less than a male cadet recently appointed at the same class six grade.[27] Parker was seen as the ideal candidate because she was considered efficient and experienced in her work.[28]  Also, according to Margaret Long, Parker had “a very pleasant appearance – modest, well dressed, and no whisper of stridency.”[29] General Secretary Jack Turnbull described Parker as a “capable girl” and “clearly a fit person” in comparison to other women on behalf of whom the PSA could have taken a case.[30] In the context of 1950s New Zealand society and conservative social expectations of women, factors such as presentation and work ethic were very important. As they were the face for the PSA equal pay campaign, having someone who was seen as respectable and not a trouble maker was important for the campaign’s credibility. Another factor was that Parker was from Dunedin rather than Wellington where a great number of those involved with the equal pay campaign resided.

While The Millar case was unsuccessful.[31] But the Appeal Board upheld Parkers case.[32]  Parkers’ seven years’ service plus her level of seniority within the public service no doubt counted in her favour. The response of the Public Service Commission was to order that Jean Parker be transferred into a more junior role and that her salary be reduced from   £650 to £460 a year.[33] Her response was “there will be £8 less in my next fortnight’s pay, just because I am a woman.”[34]  From the campaigners’ point of view this this was a gift and galvanised public opinion in favour of the equal pay cause. The Parker case drew public attention to the issue and was seen by the union as a success and a turning point for the movement.[35] Margaret Long believed the PSC could not have promoted the cause better by reacting in the way that it did.[36] The Commission justified this action on the basis that it would open itself up to further appeals when cadets were appointed in the future.[37]  The Public Service Commission had tried to argue unsuccessfully to the Appeals Board that “male cadets were a great degree more suitable and efficient”[38] and this view clearly prevailed within the PSC even after losing this case. According to PSA activist Cath Kelly, the commissioners were reactionary and held the view that women only work till they marry.[39] In this respect the use of litigation had highlighted the injustice that existed within the public service, and helped build the campaign for equal pay in the public service.

PSC chairman George Bolt took a strong position in opposition to equal pay in the public service. At the 1955 PSA women’s conference he infamously stated, “why would we pay 10 shillings for an article we can get for 5” in response to calls for women to receive equal pay.[40] Bolt’s response to losing the Parker appeal, was to press for legislation to limit appeal rights, though he was unsuccessful in convincing the government to do this.[41] The PSC did eventually respond to public pressure over Jean Parker being stripped of her status in the department with a temporary agreement that allowed her to resume her previous salary and position.[42]

For the wider campaign, the Parker case had drawn attention to the equal pay cause in New Zealand, as had the British example of clerical workers a few years earlier. In Australia, the campaign was also starting to gain momentum, though the direction this campaign took differed to some extent from that in New Zealand and Britain, and it is to this that we now turn.



[1] Ingram 240

[2] Ingram 240

[3] Jack Turnbull, interviewed by Cath Kelly, epcas 38, series 38, April 19 1986

[4] Jack Turnbull, interviewed by Cath Kelly, epcas 38, series 38, April 19 1986

[5] Jack Turnbull, interviewed by Cath Kelly, epcas 38, series 38, April 19 1986

[6] Corner 35

[7] Charlotte MacDonald The vote, the pill and the demon drink: A history of feminist Writing in New Zealand 1869-1993 Bridget Williams Books 1993 90

[8] Fiona Paisley Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women’s Pan-Pacific University of Hawai’i 2009

[9] Corner 35

[10] Corner 35

[11] Corner 42

[12] Grace du Faur, interviewed by Cath Kelly, epcas 38, series 38, August 9 1988

[13] Jim Fergusson, interviewed by Cath Kelly and Margaret Long, epcas 38, series 38, November 22 1986

[14] Margaret Long, interviewed by Alison Lash, epcas 38, series 38, August 10 1985

[15] Bill Sutch Economic Effects of Equal Pay in New Zealand Department of Industry and Commerce, August 1 1955

[16] Corner 49

[17] Ingram 238

[18] Corner 49

[19] PSA leaflet Your Rights of Appeal and How to exercise them 27/1/1956

[20] PSA leaflet Your Rights of Appeal and How to exercise them January 27 1956

[21] Jim Ferguson, interviewed by Cath Kelly and Margaret Long, epcas 38, series 38, November 22 1986

[22] Ingram 238

[23] Henderson 267

[24] Mark Derby White collar Radical, Dan Long and the rise of the white-collar unions Craig Potton Publishing 2013 120

[25] Margaret Long and Cath Kelly, interviewed by Trevor Richards, interview for the special PSA Journal liftout, 1986

[26] Derby  120

[27] Cook 16

[28] Derby 120

[29] Derby 120

[30] Jack Turnbull, interviewed by Cath Kelly, epcas 38, series 38, April 19 1986

[31] Roth 143 It improved impossible to find information as to why this case was unsuccessful.

[32] Derby 120

[33] Roth 144

[34] Roth 144

[35] Corner 49

[36] Margaret Long and Cath Kelly, interviewed by Trevor Richards, interview for the special PSA Journal liftout, 1986

[37] Henderson 268

[38] Nolan 239

[39] Margaret Long and Cath Kelly, interviewed by Trevor Richards, interview for the special PSA Journal lift out, 1986

[40] Corner 42

[41] Henderson 272

[42] Derby 122

One thought on “The Jean Parker Case (Chapter 4 of my history honours dissertation)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s