Women doing equivalent work to men would be entitled to know what their male colleagues are paid under a bill proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner.
Dr Judy McGregor's pay equity bill would remove an employer's ability to keep salaries secret.
It would mean a woman doing the same work as a man would be entitled to know what he was paid.
"The transparency will enable women to negotiate, and it'll also mean that employers won't take the risk of starting women on a lower differential than equivalent men," said McGregor.
The legislation would work both ways with men also able to ask about women or other men's pay.
"And then if the employee isn't happy and thinks they're being discriminated against, they'd be able to apply to a labour inspector to follow-up, and to get compliance in terms of equal pay," said McGregor.
The bill is yet to be introduced to Parliament but several major political parties are already indicating their support.
The move follows comments from Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) Chief Executive Alasdair Thompson that women are paid less because their "monthly sick problems" affect their work productivity.
McGregor said many sectors use confidentiality agreements on pay as a way of under-valuing female employees.
She said she is not suggesting pay rates be put up on a notice board, but is suggesting that if someone asks an employer what a colleague is paid, they are obliged to tell.
"We're suggesting that an employee has a right to know from their employer what they are being paid, and is that equal," she said.
Read more about the draft Pay Equality Bill
While the Government is waiting to see the draft bill before commenting on it, the Greens, Maori and Labour parties have all thrown their weight behind the idea.
"There'd be some privacy issues, and that's the sort of thing that the Select Committee would need to look at. But the principle of transparency to ensure that people doing the same job are paid the same, regardless of gender, I think is really important," said Labour leader Phil Goff.
Green Party women's affair spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said while people's pay is their own business, pay rates should be fair.
She said the gender pay gap averages around 12%, and in some parts of the public service even higher.
Delahunty said it is time the Government took the lead and modernised the current Equal Pay Act.
A ONE News street poll suggests many New Zealanders, of both sexes, agree.
One woman said that the concept is very useful, allowing openness and honesty.
A man told ONE News; "It's a great idea - shouldn't you always be able to ask?"
The Commissioner has been working on the bill for some time, and they say that it is not related to the controversial comments made by EMA boss Alasdair Thompson , who is still negotiating a departure settlement.
Meanwhile, the Employers and Manufacturers Association said it has nothing more to say until the situation has been resolved.
Air New Zealand confirmed yesterday that it had withdrawn its membership of the EMA in the wake of the Alasdair Thompson controversy.
The airline said it had been reviewing the costs and benefits of its membership and, "combined with events of the past week involving the EMA", decided to cancel the membership.
Thompson is on sick leave from the organisation as the board considers his future.
Campaigners for equal pay protested outside an EMA meeting in Henderson yesterday morning and later moved to the EMA headquarters in downtown Auckland.
Protesters carried placards declaring that pay equity is about justice and fairness.
With Newstalk ZB
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