Rest home gender pay imbalances to be examined in court

By Kieran Campbell

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A court case to determine if male workers are unfairly being paid more than their female counterparts at an elderly residential care home may set an important precedent for female-dominant industries, a judge says.

Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan says the hearing, which will put a spotlight on gender pay equality, will "probably have a broader ripple effect on other sectors''.

It is claimed by Kristine Robyn Bartlett that there is an unfair pay discrepancy between the six male caregivers and 106 female caregivers, including herself, at rest homes owned by Terranova Homes and Care.

Ms Bartlett says her pay of $14.46 an hour before tax is lower than the amount paid to her male colleagues who carry out the same job.

Judge Colgan, in a judgement published this month, said the hearing would be "lengthy and complex'' to investigate "issues of equal pay and/or pay equity in employment in the residential aged care sector''.

"This is one of the very few occasions on which this court or its predecessors have been asked to determine such issues,'' he said.

"Certainly the last time that an equal pay or pay equity case came before the court was many years ago.

"These issues are important ones in the burgeoning residential care sector of the community and the principles that may emerge from the litigation will probably have a broader ripple effect on other sectors where there is a combination of female-dominant and low-paid workforces.''

Judge Colgan said three of the court's five judges would likely be supplied to ensure the evidence was considered thoroughly.

A preliminary hearing before a single judge will look at questions of law over three days in June.

Ms Bartlett originally took her case to the Employment Relations Authority, which referred the claim to the Employment Court.

The Employment Court will determine whether Ms Bartlett has been discriminated against on the basis of her gender through the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the good employer obligation imposed by the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Terranova Homes and Care described the claims as ``frivolous and vexatious'', however the ERA ruled the matter was of significant interest and important questions of law were likely to arise.


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