Landmark gender pay equality ruling appealed

Kristine Bartlett. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Kristine Bartlett. Photo / Mark Mitchell

An aged care provider at the centre of a landmark court decision paving the way for gender pay equality has filed an appeal against the ruling.

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

Her case against employer Terranova Homes and Care Ltd was taken to the court by the Service and Food Workers Union.

The court found Terranova Homes' 106 female and four male caregivers were all paid between the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour and $15 an hour.

The court also found the defendant could not prove it paid its four male caregiver employees the same as its 106 female caregivers, or that it would pay replacement males the same rates.

Terranova Homes today said the company paid its female employees the same as men, and all its caregivers were paid the same as those at other aged care providers, which were identically funded by district health boards.

Chief executive Terry Bell said caregivers were not well paid and the company would love to pay its staff significantly more.

"Surely there are few more deserving than caregivers of the likes of our Kristine Bartlett. But we can't realistically do that on our current funding.''

Most aged care operators would fail within a year if they were instructed to pay a `living wage' to caregivers without a funding boost from health boards, Mr Bell said.

He said there had been a lot of commentary about the wider ramifications of the case for the sector and for employers generally.

"It's true we are deeply concerned about the basis to the court's decisions, however it is not a problem of our making.

"Already this case has cost our small business hundreds of thousands of dollars, and while we have a lot of support from all sorts of organisations, to date no one has contributed a dollar towards our legal defence costs.

"This is not our fight. Ultimately it is an issue that needs to be resolved between industry representatives and the government of the day.''

Terranova Homes' decision to file an application with the Court of Appeal against the court ruling saddened Ms Bartlett and drew strong criticism from the Service and Food Workers Union.

All caregivers would be disappointed with Terranova's decision, Ms Bartlett said.

"I feel sad because, as I say, it's taken 40 years to get here and we won and now it's just going to go on longer and longer.''

John Ryall of the Service and Food Workers Union said Terranova was trying to "reverse the tide of history'' resulting from the Employment Court decision.

"Low-paid women workers will not be held back any longer by the systemic undervaluing of their work.

"The genie is out of the bottle and as much as Terranova can huff and puff in the Court of Appeal, it is too late to put it back,'' he said.

- APNZ

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