It may be an historic pay increase that will affect about 55,000 workers but why did it take so long?

The announcement this week by the prime minister and minister of health that aged care workers and workers who support people with an intellectual disability will get a substantial lift in their pay was greeted with cheers that reverberated around the country.

Not only from the predominantly female workforce, but I suspect the public joined in as well. We have followed the workers' long court room battle to get more than just the minimum wage for the last five years. Finally we see an attempt to address the gender pay gap that exists in this country.

A determined aged care worker, Kristine Bartlett, was prepared to go the distance through numerous court appearances to get justice for herself and the thousands of others who work in this low wage area. Despite government interventions and stalling, she hung in there.

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I can't think of a more deserving group of workers. Anyone who has had a family member or friend cared for in a rest home or supported at home knows how hard and demanding this type of work can be. This group includes disability support services workers too. Like so many workers in the health sector they are an ageing group themselves.

These workers have been underpaid for years simply because they are female. What else can it be?

If the workforce was predominantly male they would have told their employers to shove it long ago. Women working in these low paid jobs couldn't afford to take that attitude.

They needed the work and put up with low wages, long hours, split shifts, rostered weekends and any available overtime. They worked all the hours they could get to make up a half decent wage.

If the workforce was male they would have demanded wage increases to bring them into line with other workers years ago. It's hard to believe there are currently 20,000 workers on the minimum wage of $15.75 an hour. From July 1 this year they will get at least $19 per hour. The undervaluing of women's work in this area is little short of shameful.

I believe successive governments have bludged off aged care workers for years. Treated them with contempt even. Either they didn't know what their work entailed or they just didn't value it.

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ROTORUA DAILY POST
20 Apr, 2017 7:00am
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Aged care workers have a demanding job. They go to work every day wanting to do the best they can.

I have worked in this area and have seen first-hand how committed the workers are. The job can be stressful at times too, no matter how rewarding.

Such a committed workforce should never have been taken advantage of over so many years. Their work was devalued because they were female, in my view. That is workplace gender discrimination. That leads to the gender pay gap so prevalent in New Zealand. Just another name for abuse.

Merepeka lives in Rotorua. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart the spread of political correctness.