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Aged care workers may be a step closer to a pay rise after recommendations for new principles for equal pay were announced yesterday.

A working group led by Governor-General-designate Dame Patsy Reddy has reached consensus on principles for addressing equal pay claims for work that is predominantly performed by women and has been historically undervalued.

The new principles will have an impact on the ongoing Employment Court case brought by aged care worker Kristine Bartlett. The parties involved in the case – the New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) and union E Tu – can now advocate the rate of pay for aged care workers based on the principles.

With starting rates hovering just above the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour, both parties agree aged care workers are underpaid. However, they differ in what they deem to be an acceptable increase. The NZACA feels that residential aged care workers should receive the same levels of pay as their counterparts in public hospitals, which is around $18 an hour.

E Tu’s Alastair Duncan says that while pay parity would be a stepping stone in the right direction, it is not the final solution in achieving equal pay. The union is pushing for a wage of $26 an hour. This pay rate is based on comparisons with other groups in the public health sector and in Corrections.

The NZACA believes the union’s figure is unrealistic, claiming it would cost $500 million to support an increase of this size for the residential aged care sector alone.

Last month’s Budget included an unquantified contingent liability for extra costs both for an initial claim for 50,000 caregivers and for wider claims based on the new principles.

Both parties are still hopeful of an out-of-court settlement to the Bartlett case, however any settlement is looking increasingly unlikely with the case now back in the hands of the Employment Court. A hearing is expected in the next few months.

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