Last updated 18:59 22/12/2014
The Supreme Court has cleared the way for a groundbreaking bid to establish equal pay rates for women that could be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
In a decision today it left the way open for the Employment Court to determine what the pay rate should be for work predominantly done by women, by calculating what men would be paid to do the same work.
The Employment Court previously found that process was set out in law, and the Court of Appeal agreed.
The Supreme Court today said it would be premature for it to grant TerraNova Homes and Care leave to appeal the Appeal Court decision, but further applications could be made in future.
Lower Hutt rest home caregiver Kristine Bartlett, with the support of the Service and Food Workers Union, agreed to front a test case against aged care provider TerraNova, her employer. The union also lodged a separate claim on behalf of a group of workers, arguing the Employment Court had the power under the Equal Pay Act to determine equal pay.
Today’s decision meant that in 2015 the Employment Court would be doing something for the first time – setting principles to decide on how to establish pay equity claims across employment sectors., New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said.
“This will be groundbreaking law setting. It has not been done anywhere in the world. It also has the potential to impact on every workplace in New Zealand, and will lay the framework for pay equity claims for all workplaces.”
Most of the aged care sector was made up of standalone small or medium enterprises or not-for-profit providers, which would not be able to survive if caregiver wages rose by 15 per cent without a supporting increase in Government funding.
Service and Food Workers Union national secretary John Ryall said the Supreme Court decision had opened the door for a faster resolution of equal pay for undervalued low paid aged care workers and an end to systematic historical gender discrimination in the sector.
He called on the Government and employers to work with the union to work out what the caregivers should be paid.
“We know that if the Government and employers are opposed to this they can drag it out,” Ryall said.
The case could have to go back to the Appeal and Supreme Courts if the Government and employers kept appealing.
“We realise there’s a lot of money at stake here in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Similar equal pay work was under way in the home support and disability sectors, Ryall said.
He disagreed with the aged care association’s Taylor that the work the Employment Court would be doing had not been done anywhere else in the world, and noted the aged care case had gone further than any other dealing with equal pay in this country, despite the equal pay law coming into force in 1972.
The aged care association said 30,000 caregivers and 5000 nurses worked in the 650 aged residential care facilities not managed by district health boards. Caregivers not working within the DHB structure earned $15.31 an hour on average, while those in DHB hospitals and facilities received a minimum $17.50 an hour.
Association members could not meet extra costs from their own resources. “This is why we are campaigning for increased funding for caregiver wages.”
Bartlett has argued her $14.46 hourly wage was less than would be paid to men with the same, or substantially similar, skills, which was a breach of the law.