The Court of Appeal has upheld the Employment Court’s earlier decision on the landmark pay equity case brought by caregiver Kristine Bartlett and the Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) against TerraNova Homes and Care.
The Employment Court backed Bartlett’s claim that women care workers’ low pay was discriminatory, and that it might be necessary to look for comparisons with other female-predominant industries to establish a fair rate of pay.
The case essentially tried to establish whether the parameters for pay comparison lay within wages paid within TerraNova, the residential aged care sector or other sectors.
TerraNova argued on appeal that while it might be permissible to compare wages within the same sector, it would never be relevant to consider wages paid by employers in other sectors.
However the Appeal Court agreed with the Employment Court’s judgment (if not all of the reasoning) that the Equal Pay Act is not limited to requiring equal pay for the same or similar work, and in determining what a man would be paid, it may be relevant to consider wages paid in other sectors.
While the case hinged on gender-based pay parity, it more significantly drew attention to the low levels of pay for aged care workers in general. Bartlett and SFWU both accepted that TerraNova paid its female caregivers the same as its male caregivers, and they argued that male caregivers’ wages have also been depressed because care giving is viewed as “women’s work”.
In addressing the low levels of pay in the residential aged care sector, the low level of government funding for the sector was also called into scrutiny.
Alastair Duncan, spokesman for the SFWU says he hopes the Court of Appeal’s decision prompts some collaboration across the sector. He says Kristine Bartlett, while reportedly “delighted”, is eager to see the issue resolved.
“What we really want now is for parties to get around the table and work this out,” says Duncan.
“Hopefully the Aged Care Association will see the bigger picture and not look for any further potential sources of appeal. We could have been in this position months ago.”
Martin Taylor, chief executive of the NZACA, says they are considering the decision and whether there are any grounds for appeal. He expects the NZACA will decide whether or not to appeal in the next week or so. The association’s litigation sub-committee meets this afternoon.
One thing both parties are agreed on is the need for a lift in government funding to support caregiver wages. This was a key message of NZACA’s election campaign.
“We need government to give employers the surety that they will be funded accordingly,” says Duncan.