Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Aged care workers rally for gender pay equality

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

An aged care worker at the centre of a landmark pay equality case is confident the ruling will not be overturned on appeal.

The Employment Court last year found in favour of Lower Hutt caregiver Kristine Bartlett, who argued her $14.32 hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act.

The ruling - which paves the way for pay equality in the female-dominated aged care sector - is being challenged in the Court of Appeal by Ms Bartlett's employer, Terranova Homes.

Ms Bartlett was supported by a group of about 50 caregivers and union members who gathered on the steps of the court in Wellington today.

Speaking before today's hearing, Ms Bartlett said she was confident the Employment Court's ruling would be upheld.

"I just hope that the judges see the decision is the righteous one, as it was when we won the first case."

Ms Bartlett did not agree with a claim by the Aged Care Association - which is intervening in the case on behalf of the sector - that care providers could not afford to pay workers better without more Government funding.

"These industries are making money - they are making profit every year. So where's it going? It needs to come to us hard-working carers," she said.

"It shows you no respect at all from employers - we just feel like we're slaves."

Ms Bartlett said aged care workers did not have enough money to make ends meet.

"It's very sad, what I see around me."

Ms Bartlett's supporters waved banners and sung songs before filing into the courtroom for the appeal.

Opening Terranova's case, lawyer Harry Waalkens QC said the Employment Court had correctly drawn a distinction between equal pay and pay equity, but had erred in its conclusions.

Under the Equal Pay Act, equal pay was about ensuring men and women were paid the same for doing the same work.

By contrast, pay equity was about paying men and women the same amount for different work of equal value.

The Employment Court ruling - which allowed Ms Bartlett's pay rate to be compared with other jobs that were not female-dominated - was "off the rails" in its assessment.

"They're talking there in pay equity terms ... and that's just completely wrong, that's not what the Equal Pay Act [says]."

Mr Waalkens said the court was not allowed to consider evidence of what other employers might pay their workers.

He said Terranova's 110 employees, of which four were men, were all paid the same. "There's no distinction between them."

Mr Waalkens said the Equal Pay Act was never intended to be a "total fix" and there was nothing in it that required structural discrimination be addressed.

The appeal is due to continue tomorrow before Justices Mark O'Regan, Lynton Stevens and Christine French.

It comes after the Service and Food Workers Union, which brought the case on behalf of Ms Bartlett, and the NZ Nurses Organisation, filed hundreds more Equal Pay Act proceedings against the country's major rest home chains.

Those cases are expected to be heard together after the Terranova appeal has been decided.

- APNZ

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