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Huge step forward for low-paid women workers


22 August 2013

Huge step forward for low-paid women workers

A case taken by a Service and Food Workers Union member and long-time caregiver has resulted in a huge step forward for women workers.

A bench of three Employment Court judges found that the Union correctly interpreted the Equal Pay Act to mean that large occupational groups of women workers, such as caregiving, should receive a rate of pay equal to what would paid if that occupational group was male-dominated.

SFWU National secretary John Ryall said the outcome was the greatest advance for the rights of working women since the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1972 and will be celebrated by caregivers and other low-paid women workers throughout New Zealand.

Lower Hutt caregiver, Kristine Bartlett, went to the Employment Court to show that her very low pay is a result of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. Kristine’s case has shown that her pay rate of $14.32 an hour, after over 20 years of caregiving for the elderly, is based on her gender rather than her skills, effort and responsibility.

“This is a hard-won and historic victory that offers hope for low-paid women at last. For far too long “women’s work” has been under-valued and underpaid” said John Ryall.

“The Court has recognised that caregivers are paid abysmally low pay rates because they are women and has dismissed Business New Zealand arguments about the cost of removing pay discrimination as akin to the economic arguments against removing slavery.”

John Ryall said it was a huge step forward to establish that the Equal Pay Act, which has been around for over 40 years, provides the legal argument for an end to low wages in occupations simply because they are women’s jobs.

“This day will be remembered as turning point for equal pay for New Zealand women workers,” he said. “But this is just the first step. Now we need to do the work on identifying a comparable role, in terms of skills, responsibility and effort. This will be tough, as caregiving is highly-skilled and demanding work.”

However, he said there is a huge amount of job evaluation work already done overseas and in New Zealand and skilled experts available.

John Ryall also said that SFWU was keen to engage in a process with the aged care employers and the government funders, under the umbrella of the Court to set a fair rate of pay for caregivers, not the lower rates that are paid now simply because caregivers are women.

“Thousands of caregivers across New Zealand will now be invited to join the Equal Pay case and the growing group representing caregivers, providers, human rights advocate and spokespeople for the elderly will call on government to acknowledge the disgracefully low pay rates in caregiving and provide the funding to fix this now.”


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