THIS week's announcement that aged care sector workers will receive a pay increase of between $4 and $7 an hour is an historic breakthrough on a number of fronts.

And it will force a look at other aspects of society where people quietly and loyally go about essential work but receive quite low wages.

Memories of my first year as an MP are still vivid. One 2005 visitor to my office told me she had worked in rest homes for more than 30 years but was still receiving just $11.66 an hour before tax -- at the time that was just 35 cents above the minimum wage.

This is round-the-clock hard work, both physically and mentally demanding on every day of the year, so I am pleased to see all this come together.


That term "doing God's work" is a worthy one but perhaps doesn't cut it when you think how little an hourly rate of $16 will purchase at the supermarket checkout.

As a society, we all wax on about how important good aged care is, yet we have underpaid a big group of workers for generations. This move addresses pay inequity for a mainly female workforce who do such wonderful work and who will now get a degree of recognition for their skills and experience.

I hope that, in all of this, the other advancements for carers have not been forgotten, either.

Since this Government has been in office we have been able to settle the issue of payments of carers who, by necessity, have to stay on-site overnight as part of the care that they offer. We were also able to implement travel time allowances for in-home carers.

I feel particularly close to the aged care professionals, and I offer my congratulations to Kristine Bartlett from Lower Hutt who, five years ago, had the courage of her convictions to speak up on behalf of fellow workers and say, essentially: "We are professional carers and we are being underpaid, probably because most of us are female."

Aside from the birth of her children, Kristine describes this week's $2 billion pay deal to be her greatest accomplishment in life.

My family are close to the sector because both my mother and my mother-in-law are in need of care. My mum suffers from dementia and, sadly, no longer knows any of us and requires constant care.

If there is to be any consolation for families who have to watch the steady decline of once energetic and inspirational parents, it's the way their dedicated, typically upbeat caregivers quietly help our loved ones with their daily -- and often hourly -- challenges.

So around 55,000 workers will receive just over 20 per cent extra in their take home pay and, hopefully, this will address the industry's high staff turnover rate. But I definitely think there is another chapter to this story and one which I hope can be completed this year.

Teacher aides and school support workers are another sector I regularly connect with.

As well as being low-paid, they are a vulnerable group. They work with some quite difficult children, and their employment is subject to the vagaries of rising and falling school rolls and sudden transient parent moves.

It's usually a casual arrangement with holiday pay built in, so if a constant pay is opted for, the rate will often fall below the minimum wage.

Most of these people offer added value to school communities, and they often do more than their required hours just to see the job done, be it after-school care, covering library books, attending meetings or helping to fundraise.

This week's announcement for the aged care sector should open thinking about pay equity for these essential contributors to our school communities too.