Massey psychologist awarded for fair pay research


Professor Stuart Carr with his presidential
coin award for Project ADD-UP.

Research challenging aid agencies to change the time-honoured practice of paying workers differently depending on where they are from has earned a Massey University psychologist an international award.

Professor Carr, an industrial and organisational psychologist at Massey’s Albany campus, and his colleague Dr Ishbel McWha (now at Cornell University), have been awarded special medals, called presidential coins, at  the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology conference in Chicago.

Titled Project ADD-UP, the three-year study by an international team began in 2007 and was led by Professor Carr and Professor Malcolm MacLachlan from Trinity College, Dublin. It examined the effect of pay discrepancies among 1300 workers from 200 aid, governmental, educational and business organisations in 10 countries.

The project found expatriate workers are paid, on average, four times more than local employees for doing a similar job. It showed pay differences were not a reflection of different skill levels or experience, but of the fact expatriates come from higher income countries.

An impact case study by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council reported Project ADD-UP’s findings, including that dual salaries perpetuate dominance and injustice, and undermine pride and motivation. The result is continuing poverty – not capacity building – in low-income nations, the report says.

Professor Carr says while the study tackles a taboo subject, its message is being heard and is starting to have an impact, with one major European aid organisation changing its salary structure to embrace a more equitable system. And a national university in a lower income country is also piloting reforms of its salary system in the wake of Project ADD-UP’s findings.

The presidential coin recognises “exemplary and extraordinary behaviour in support of science and practice” and was presented at the conference attended by nearly 5000 international industrial and organisational psychologists. The society’s president Eduardo Salas described Project ADD-UP as “outstanding”, as did its formal evaluators.

Professor Carr says the project is now pursuing further funding for comparative studies to assess the results for organisations making changes in salary structures. This will enable researchers to provide support to other organisations based on proven solutions. Alternatives to the dual salary system include a range of options based on aligning salaries so that they are more equitable.  “It’s about fair pay for decent work,” he says.

Closer to home, his next project is to examine the impact of pay discrepancies within New Zealand’s business, commercial and government sectors that currently result in some chief executives earning multi-million dollar salary packages while employees are earning a fraction of that.

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