Mother-of-three Petria Malloch and 2500 other rest-home caregivers have joined in a historic court case seeking "equal pay" for the largely-female rest-home workforce.
Ms Malloch, 36, earns $14.76 an hour, just above the minimum wage of $14.25, and can only get 31.5 hours a week.
"No one at our work gets 40 hours," she said. "I have three teenage boys between my partner and I, and trying to live on that wage is really difficult."
She joined a group of who lodged claims by 2100 rest-home caregivers at the Employment Relations Authority in Auckland on Monday, on top of 400 other claims lodged earlier.
All are "piggy-backing" on a single claim lodged last year by Lower Hutt rest-home worker Kristine Bartlett, who argued that her employer Terranova Group was breaching the Equal Pay Act by fixing caregiver wages at a low rate because 92 per cent of the country's 20,000 rest-home caregivers were women.
The Employment Court ruled a year ago on an initial point of principle -- that her pay rate could be compared against occupations that are not female-dominated.
The Court of Appeal heard an appeal by Terranova Group in February but has yet to issue a judgment.
Aged Care Association director Martin Taylor, whose group has picked up legal bills for the case of $200,000 so far, said a further appeal to the Supreme Court was likely regardless of which side the Appeal Court came down on.
If the higher courts uphold the Employment Court ruling, both sides will then go back to the Employment Court to argue a substantive case about which occupations were comparable to caregiving and how much caregivers should be paid.
Mr Taylor's association is lobbying political parties to raise aged care funding by $160 million a year to lift rest-home caregivers' wages to an average of $17.50 an hour, in line with healthcare assistants in public hospitals. Labour, the Greens, NZ First, the Maori Party, United Future and the Conservatives have all promised to support this, but National said wages were between employers and workers.
Another mother-of-three Vere Marama, 41, said she worked a total of 60 to 70 hours a week in two jobs to make ends meet as a solo mother -- 35 hours in an Australian-owned Oceania rest home at $14.65 an hour, and often about 30 hours for a nursing bureau at $15.50 an hour.
"I used to live in a three-bedroom house, but we had to move out of there because we couldn't afford it, so we are living in a two-bedroom apartment in Three Kings for $285 a week," she said.
Julie Saumalu, 49, is still on the minimum wage after working in the industry for 21 years. She supports her daughter, who lives with her on a benefit in their Massey state house, and three grandchildren aged 5, 4 and 2.
"I enjoy looking after elderly people," she said. "But the money we get is not even sufficient for my family."
The story so far
May 2013: Kristine Bartlett lodged claim for equal pay
June 2013: Employment Court hearing on preliminary issues
Aug 2013: Employment Court judgment on preliminary issues
Feb 2014: Court of Appeal hearing
Yesterday: 2500 other caregivers joined the case
Still to come
Awaited: Court of Appeal judgment
Next stage: Likely appeal to Supreme Court
Next stage: Employment Court hearing on substantive issue
Final stage: Likely further round of appeals