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Landmark Equal Pay Case Opens

24 June 2013

Landmark Equal Pay Case Opens

A landmark legal case affecting thousands of low-paid women workers commenced today in the Auckland Employment Court. The case will continue tomorrow and Wednesday.

The case, taken by the Service and Food Workers Union Nga Ringa Tota, supported by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, focuses on long-term caregiver Kristine Bartlett and whether her pay rate of $14.32 an hour is consistent with the Equal Pay Act 1972.

“After 20 years of caregiving for vulnerable elderly people, Kristine is on little more than the minimum wage,” said John Ryall, National Secretary of the SFWU.

“This rate is typical across the aged care sector. Clearly this rate is totally inadequate given the skills, responsibility and effort required to do the job.”

John Ryall said Kristine’s employer, Terranova Homes and Care Limited, says that Kristine and the other 110 female caregivers working in its residential care homes do receive equal pay because they get paid the same as their six male caregiver colleagues.

“The SFWU says caregivers in aged care do not receive equal pay,” said John Ryall.

The Union's argument is that the Equal Pay Act, which extended the 1960 Government Service Equal Pay Act to the private sector, is designed not just to bring equal pay between male and female pay rates for the same work in the same workplace, but has provisions to apply a broader application.

“It is this broader application that must apply for female-intensive occupations such as caregiving as the few male caregivers and their pay rates are largely bound up by the gender segmentation that exists in this sector. In other words, they are treated as "honorary females",” said John Ryall.

“This is not just the union's view. Section 3(1)(b) of the Equal Pay Act says that in female-dominated occupations the Employment Court needs to assess what a male worker would be paid for the same skills, responsibility, service and degree of effort if the gender segmentation did not exist.”

John Ryall said the outcome of the case could affect not only thousands of caregivers in aged care, but other occupational groups where the pay was low simply because the work was predominantly done by women.

“This case is long overdue. The International Labour Organisation has regularly asked the New Zealand Government about the lack of cases to apply pay equity in New Zealand given the lack of progress on closing the our male-female wage gap,” he said.

“While the Government has argued that it has a legal framework to deliver pay equity we will see from this Employment Court case whether it is able to deliver justice for the 30,000 caregivers that it funds.”


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