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May 1, 2017 | by  | in News Splash | [ssba]

Care workers win equal pay

The New Zealand government has announced a $2 billion settlement for care workers, after a lengthy court case led by aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett. Bartlett argued that the sector’s low wages were due to it being a female dominated industry, and were in conflict with the Equal Pay Act.

On July 1, depending on qualifications and experience, 55,000 workers across the sector will receive pay rises between 15 and 49 per cent.

The significance of the pay rise was explained by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman: “For the 20,000 workers currently on the minimum wage of $15.74 per hour, it means on July 1 they will move to at least $19 per hour, a 21 per cent pay rise.”

The settlement includes pay rises for workers who are above minimum wage and rewards those with qualifications and experience.

Kristine Bartlett was encouraged to pursue the case by the E Tū Union, who represent a range of industries, from community support to engineering and mining.

Bartlett said she hoped the settlement would help lift workers in the industry out of poverty. “I’ve seen them come to work sick, they haven’t been able to afford to go to doctors, I’ve seen them walk in the rain, I’ve seen them come without lunch, and that’s what breaks my heart. So this will be a life changer.”

Salient spoke to a care worker who had worked in disability support for 30 years, who said that the low wage made her feel undervalued.

She pointed out that her job dealt with emergency situations and was often multiple roles in one. “We were the cook, the cleaner, the driver, doing the finances, giving the medication, doing the personal cares, arranging medical appointments, liaising with professionals and managers — all within an eight hour shift, and all for $16 an hour!”

The government announced a new Pay Equity Bill on April 20 following the settlement, however this has been criticised by the Council of Trade Unions as “undermining” the settlement.

The proposed Bill would narrow the current “comparator” model under which Bartlett was able to compare her female dominated rest home sector to a male dominated industry to successfully argue her low wages were due to gender discrimination.

Labour leader Andrew Little suggested that the proposed changes “go against what the court has said was the correct way to approach pay equity,” and that if the legislation was in place at the time of the settlement, “the aged care deal wouldn’t happen.”

Little said that, if elected into government in the 2017 election, Labour would legislate for a process that “makes it quicker and easier to get pay equity determinations,” citing the lengthy process that preceded the care worker’s settlement.

The settlement did not include mental health workers, nurses, occupational therapists, and social workers, although the case set precedent for other female dominated industries to seek an equity claim.

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