The issue of pay equity for women was like "Pandora's box" and would have to be opened at some point, the Court of Appeal has heard.
Rest home TerraNova Homes & Care is appealing against an Employment Court decision, which ruled women in female-dominated industries should be able to compare themselves to similarly skilled men in different industries.
The result of the case, which pits the Service and Food Workers Union against the aged-care sector, could have a drastic impact on other professions such as nursing, cleaning and early childhood education.
The case was fronted by Kristine Bartlett, a Lower Hutt employee of TerraNova who said she would be paid more than her $14.46 hourly wage if caregivers were mostly male rather than female.
TerraNova's lawyer Harry Waalkens told the Court of Appeal yesterday the Employment Court had misinterpreted the issue.
It was unfair to compare two different industries, which was like comparing "apples and oranges".
"The Employment Court, with all due respect, was completely wrong to dismiss this evidence."
But union lawyer Peter Cranney said women's work had traditionally been seen as less important and skilful than industries dominated by men.
Under questioning, Cranney said the case was not just about money but the quality of life and dignity the 20,000-odd female caregivers deserved.
"During discrimination cases Pandora's box always has to be opened, it always does.
"Removing discrimination is always difficult . . . I'm old enough to remember the first Maori woman who said kia ora on the telephone, it was almost a national crisis."
When asked why the court was being asked to change a piece of legislation that had not been questioned since its inception in 1972, Cranney said that times had changed and the world's view on the issue had shifted.
Several parties, including Business NZ and the New Zealand Aged Care Association, appeared as intervenors yesterday.
Crown Law also appeared at the request of Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.
The court reserved its decision.
- Fairfax Media