It was a huge day for Kristine Bartlett, the face of today's huge pay equity settlement.

She was thrilled with the victory but more for colleagues than herself.

And she shed a few tears for them - a little sooner than anticipated.

"I haven't had time to breathe or let it all sink in," she told the Herald in an interview at E Tu union. "I'm just over the moon and excited and happy. I will probably have a big cry later on - I will. I know I will."

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"These carers have suffered for so long," she said emotionally.

"They work so hard for frigging hardly anything. It's been so cruel really. I find it hard to believe that nobody has ever really ... how the Government can let this have gone on for so long.

"At the end of the day, it is happening so that's good. It's excellent."

Bartlett is 68 and has worked in a Lower Hutt rest home for 24 years on a rate that is barely above the minimum wage.

The historic settlement will see her own rate of pay lift from about $15.75 an hour to $23.50 on July 1. By the end of five years, that rate will have increased to $27 an hour, a total increase of 71 per cent.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman with health care worker Kristine Bartlett. Photo / Audrey Young
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman with health care worker Kristine Bartlett. Photo / Audrey Young

The settlement will also lift the pay rates of 55,000 others in Government-funded aged care, home support and disability sectors to varying degrees.

Bartlett said she loved her job and wanted to stay in it while she had her health.

"Hallelujah. Thank God something is coming out of this before I retire," she told the Herald.

" It has just made me so happy for those young girls and for the girls that are starting this career.

"It is a career and it is a wonderful career but you can't survive on that minimum wage and without the union it would have gone on and on and on."

"My end of my working career is over but I am just so happy for the care and support workers now," Bartlett said.

"It is going to be a big change in their lives. It's going to give them a bit of dignity. I've seen my workers come to work in the rain.

"I've seen them come with no lunch. I've seen them come sick because they can't afford to go to the doctors and that breaks my heart. There's some sad cases.

"I know what rents cost - $300 probably more. That's basically all their wages gone. So how are they living. Do you know how they are living? They are scrambling for extra shifts so they can make extra money to pay for whatever they have got to pay.

"This case is going to be a big life changer. It is going to let them live with a little bit of dignity and hopefully bring them out of poverty that a lot are in."

She said she wanted to thank the Government for the settlement.

"It is a just and fair resolution.

"I'd like to thank the Government. They really stepped up and they really needed to. They should have stepped years and years ago, to be honest."