Alf will be making another pitch to his Cabinet colleagues to save good public money by dispensing of the services of a few more civil servants.
The jobs he has in mind are those at the Human Rights Commission and, more partiuclarly, the job of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner.
This post with a grand title is held by one Judy McGregor, a former newspaper hack who somewhere down the track became a professor.
On the Human Rights Commission website she is introduced as Dr Judy McGregor, PhD, PGDip, LLB, BA, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner; she is jointly designated as the Disability Rights Commissioner.
She is a former Massey University professor, trained lawyer and has a doctorate in political communication.
This implies she takes a very scholastic approach to issues within her domain.
But is she dispassionate and open-minded?
Today we find she is casting doubts on some research done by two other professors, although she seems to be unaware of their work and has not yet read it.
One of the two professors is an Enrico Moretti, described in the Herald today as an Italian professor of economics living in California.
He is reported to have some sympathy for Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson, who has been under fire for suggesting women took more sick days because of their periods.
Thompson claimed this affected their productivity, and that this was among the reasons they are paid less than men. He has been roundly condemned but Moretti says, actually, women do take more sick days because of their periods.
He and another economics professor, Andrea Ichino analysed personnel data at an Italian bank which recorded the date and duration of every employee absence from work and found the absences of women below the age of 45 followed a 28-day cycle.
The professors concluded the menstrual cycle did increase female absenteeism and this explained at least 14 per cent of the gender pay difference. But they also found the sick days were due to genuine pain – and suggested one way to redress the pay gap was to bring in a gender-specific subsidy for women.
Moretti told the Herald in a phone interview he was often challenged by women about the findings when he presents the paper at conferences.
But after a long question and answer session there is less scepticism, he says.
He does not have data for New Zealand, and Alf concedes that maybe our women are built differently from those elsewhere, especially the formidable (but adorable) Mrs Grumble.
But the professor says in many Western countries women typically have more sick days than men of the same age – 7.6 more in Europe and 5.2 more in America and Canada.
“We think that biological difference could explain at least some of it.
“What we find is consistent with medical studies where women have turned in diaries of their conditions and their sickness and doctors find an incidence of PMS-related absences that is very consistent with our own estimate that came from the Italian data.”
Moretti is doing what a professor should do: he is trying to say what the facts he has gathered are and what the role of biology might be in women earning less, and he says his guess (because he has not studied this aspect, presumably) is that child-rearing is a much bigger factor.
Dr Judy McGregor’s reaction has been more instinctive than measured. She
…was sceptical about the results but had not read the paper.
“It’s certainly not borne out by any of the research that I know either internationally or domestically,” said the Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner.
Further, she would wager “a significant amount” that if a meta-analysis were carried out on all human resource records in New Zealand monthly periods would not turn out to be a productivity issue.
She goes on to say the real issues about pay inequality are much more complex than a woman having a day off because she is feeling unwell because of her period.
This no doubt is true.
Much of the complexity, it is becoming evident, goes beyond sexist bosses paying sheilas less than they pay blokes for doing the same job.
Bosses are persistently berated by trade unions and lefties for trying to get work done at the cheapest possible rate.
They would be daft to do otherwise. If you can get a job done for $20 an hour, why pay $25?
But we are supposed to believe a boss would hire a bloke rather than a woman when both have exactly the same skills and abilities and the sheila would have settled for $5 less.