First Union says it is considering filing a case for retail workers a day after a landmark pay rise for care and support workers in the aged care and disability sectors was approved.

The government on Tuesday announced care workers would receive pay rises worth up to $5000 a year in a move that will cover 55,000 care workers, mostly women, in the aged residential care, home support and disability service sectors.

The announcement follows a pay equity claim between E Tu Union on behalf of care worker Kristine Bartlett and her employer Terra Nova.

The union successfully argued that Bartlett and other caregivers, male and female, were paid at a low rate because it was work predominantly done by women.


It is the first legal settlement in New Zealand which recognises that some jobs pay less because they are done mainly by women.

Prime Minister Bill English said it would be a high hurdle for other sectors to follow suit, however, First Union retail secretary Maxine Gay told Newstalk ZB the decision set a precedent.

"We were somewhat surprised to hear Steven Joyce, the Minister of Finance, saying that this decision would not impact on retail workers," Gay said.

"That's just so very, very, very wrong."

The union was considering filing a similar case for retail workers, however, commentators said it was unlikely the union would be successful.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said although historically retail may have been a female-dominated industry, this had changed over time.

"The makeup of retail staff is completely different now than it used to be, and there's a trend toward key-time workers so using university students to fill store numbers at busy times," Wilkinson said.

"Once upon a time there was more of a focus on full-time workers that would be on shift work throughout the week but there's much more agile staffing solutions coming through in terms of retail now."

"I think it's a bit of a stretch to extend the [care worker settlement] to the retail industry."

Retail NZ's Greg Harford said there were also significant differences between the aged care sector and retail, primarily that the aged care sector was driven by government employers and government contracts which were awarded.

In comparison, Harford said the retail sector contained a large number of small businesses employing a small number of people, which he said was a much different proposition.

"I think there's perhaps the perception that retail is a low-paid and low-skilled industry which is absolutely not the case, in fact, it's quite a highly skilled industry," Harford said.

"I don't have statistics on how average wage rates in the retail sector compare to other sectors but I think it would be quite a stretch based on the information we've had to suggest that there is some sort of systemic pay equity issue in the sector."