Appeal Court hears case for pay equity

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 04/02/2014
Kristine Bartlett
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ
STANDING STRONG: Lower Hutt caregiver Kristine Bartlett, outside the Court of Appeal, is fronting the test case that could result in thousands of women throughout New Zealand being paid higher wages.

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Pay equity for women has again reached the courts, with thousands of workers and employers keenly watching the result.

The question about whether women should be paid the same as similarly skilled men in different industries was heard by the Court of Appeal yesterday.

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 female-dominated industries throughout the country.

In 2012, the union launched a legal challenge fronted by Lower Hutt member Kristine Bartlett, who works at rest home provider TerraNova Homes & Care.

Bartlett says her $14.46 hourly wage is less than would be paid to men with the same, or substantially similar, skills, arguing it was a breach of the Equal Pay Act.

In August, the Employment Court ruled in her favour, stating women in female-dominated industries could now compare themselves to men in other industries requiring similar skills.

Employers, who argued only the same work in the same industry could be compared, were outraged and TerraNova appealed.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association agreed to help fund the case.

It argued that while rest homes would like to pay their staff more, they lacked the money to do so and the Government needed to increase its funding of the sector.

Association chief executive Martin Taylor said wages rising without adequate funding would be a crisis.

"The reality is New Zealand will have a $1 billion surplus by the middle of the year, so the time has come for the Government to engage with the aged-care sector and increase funding by $160 million, which will support wages of $17 per hour for all caregivers . . . It's about the viability of a whole sector."

But speaking outside the court during a union-organised rally, Ms Bartlett said she did not believe all rest homes were on as tight a budget as they made out.

"As I've said right from the beginning, we won't give up. We'll keep fighting for it and keep fighting to women everywhere."

The appeal concludes today, with the court to hear from other parties, including Crown Law, after Attorney-General Chris Finlayson asked for the Government to be represented because the decision could have "important public policy implications".

The court's decision is likely to be reserved.

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- The Dominion Post

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