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Awaiting Equal Pay Case Decision

Written By: - Date published: 6:55 pm, July 1st, 2013 - 10 comments
Categories: Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

Caregiver Kristine Bartlett

Over 30,000 aged care workers and tens of thousands of other low paid women workers are awaiting the decision of the Employment Court in relation to an Equal Pay Case heard this week.

The Court was hearing a case brought by the Service and Food Workers Union, on behalf of $14.32 an hour senior caregiver Kristine Bartlett, alleging that her employer was breaching the Equal Pay Act 1972 by not paying her the rate that a male worker would get for work with the same skills, responsibility and service.

While the Equal Pay Act has been in existence for 41 years, this is the first case that has been taken for a female-intensive workforce and is provoking strong resistance from Kristine’s employer Terranova Homes and Care Limited and Business NZ.

Terranova argued that because it paid its four male caregivers the same pay rates as its 100-plus female caregivers then it was complying with the Equal Pay Act and told the Court it was being picked on and being put to great expense for no reason. It’s lawyer even made the comment that some jobs have always been paid low rates and always would be, but that was not about gender discrimination, simply the market rate that these jobs attracted.

Business NZ argued that a “pandora’s box” would be opened up if the Court agreed that women in female-intensive low-paid sectors, such as caregiving, were allowed to have their wages adjusted upwards to the level of male workers with the same skills, responsibilities and service outside of the female ghetto in which they were employed.

They argued that allowing the courts to set wage rates for workers in female-intensive areas was “returning to the past” and in the modern environment “business was allowed to bargain whatever rate it liked”.

These comments are at the nub of the problem that the Service and Food Workers Union and Nurses Organisation have encountered during the last 15 years in trying to address the abysmal wage rates paid to caregivers in aged care homes, hospitals, dementia units and pyschogeriatric units. The numerous committees, Government inquiries and parliamentary select committee reports have all agree that the women employed in this sector are underpaid but the situation has not changed because the cost of doing so has always been too great.

As Chief Judge Colgan quipped in the Employment Court hearing to a cost argument from Business NZ “cost arguments were made against the abolition of slavery”.

The Equal Pay Case follows on from a successful case that was taken by the Service and Food Workers Union for another group of low paid support workers in the disability support sector to win them the right to be paid the minimum wage for sleepovers.

The disability support sector also suffers from the lack of sufficient government funding, which makes collective bargaining an exercise in the pass-on of paltry increases, rather than a forum to establish the true wage rate for the job. It was only through going to the courts that the SFWU was able to gain the leverage to get the Government into serious bargaining about funding minimum wage payments for on-call work at night. Initially the Government indicated that the cost of doing so was enormous, but a negotiated settlement was concluded, the minimum wage established and the sky did not fall in.

Because of the very weak collective bargaining system in New Zealand, with no right to arbitration, more and more low paid workers are looking to organise around human rights arguments to win them wage increases.

This is the basis of the Living Wage Movement, with its emphasis on the right to a liveable wage for not just directly employed workers, but the tens of thousands who are now employed indirectly by contractors, sub-contractors and labour hire companies. Several city councils have adopted living wage policies and The Warehouse retail group has also picked it up.

But it is also the basis for the increasing use of the courts by low-income workers to seek support for the compliance by employers and the New Zealand Government with international human rights conventions, such as those that apply in the area of gender equity.

While it will be several months before the Employment Court makes its decision about the nature of the Equal Pay Act 1972, pandora’s box has already been opened, the right to a living wage is already on the agenda and human rights claims by low income workers to increase their wage rates and restrain unregulated market forces are on the increase..

10 comments on “Awaiting Equal Pay Case Decision”

  1. weka 1

    Thanks, that’s very informative.

    Business NZ argued that a “pandora’s box” would be opened up if the Court agreed that women in female-intensive low-paid sectors, such as caregiving, were allowed to have their wages adjusted upwards to the level of male workers with the same skills, responsibilities and service outside of the female ghetto in which they were employed.

    They argued that allowing the courts to set wage rates for workers in female-intensive areas was “returning to the past” and in the modern environment “business was allowed to bargain whatever rate it liked”.

    Thanks Business NZ. Really good to know where you stand. Oh, and fuck you, you bunch of selfish, arrogant arseholes. No wonder that so many in NZ are anti-business now.

    • Jilly Bee 1.1

      ‘Thanks Business NZ. Really good to know where you stand. Oh, and fuck you, you bunch of selfish, arrogant arseholes. No wonder that so many in NZ are anti-business now.’

      Hear, hear Weka.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.2

      They are so helpful in listing their members. Here is the “Major Companies Group”:

      ACC, AECOM NZ Ltd, ANZ National Bank Ltd, ASB Bank Ltd, Auckland Airport, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd, Bank of New Zealand, BECA, BP New Zealand, Carter Holt Harvey Pulp & Paper, Chapman Tripp, Chevron NZ, Chorus New Zealand Ltd, Contact Energy Ltd, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank AG New Zealand, Downer EDI Works Ltd, Fletcher Building Ltd, Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd, Foodstuffs Group, Fuji Xerox NZ Ltd, Fujitsu NZ Ltd, Fulton Hogan Ltd, Genesis Energy, Gough Group, HSBC, IAG New Zealand Ltd, Industrial Research Ltd, KiwiRail, Landcare Research, Lion, Lyttelton Port Company Ltd, McConnell Group, Meridian Energy Ltd, Methanex NZ Ltd, Microsoft NZ Ltd, Mighty River Power Ltd, New Zealand Steel Ltd, Ngai Tahu Holdings Corporation, NZ Post Ltd, NZ Refining Company Ltd, NZX Ltd, Opus International Consultants Ltd, Orion Health, Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd, Port of Tauranga Ltd, Ports of Auckland Ltd, PricewaterhouseCooper NZ, Progressive Enterprises Ltd, QBE Insurance (International) Ltd, Rio Tinto Alcan NZ Ltd, Sanford Ltd, Shell NZ Ltd, Siemens (NZ) Ltd, Silver Fern Farms Ltd, Skope Industries Ltd, Sky City Entertainment Group Ltd, Solid Energy NZ Ltd, Spotless Services (NZ) Ltd, Sothern Cross Healthcare, Telecom NZ Ltd, Telstraclear Ltd, Thales NZ Ltd, The Warehouse Group Ltd, Todd Corporation, Toyota NZ Ltd, Transfield Services NZ Ltd, Transpower NZ Ltd, Unison Networks Ltd, Vero Insurance NZ Ltd, Vero Insurance NZ Ltd, Vodafone New Zealand, Waterfront Auckland, Wellington Electricity, Westpac NZ Ltd, Z Energy Ltd, Zespri International Ltd.

      Several publicly owned companies in that nest of (I was going to say vipers) vultures. They need to be put on notice that when a pro-New Zealand government is elected, they will either quit the organisation or sack their lawyers.

      PS: I wonder what Stephen Tindall makes of being represented by these scum.

      • CC 1.2.1

        Stephen Tindall was always in bed with rest of the listed scum wasn’t he? Seem to recall that one of his mates resigned from his charity because the Warehouse was so damaging to communities that had the red barns foisted on them.

        • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.2.1.1

          You are aware that the red sheds are in the process of implementing the living wage, no? Perhaps you should do a little research on other aspects of their employment practices before you rush to judgement.

          • CC 1.2.1.1.1

            And what has that got to do with the “vulture/viper” company that Steven Tindall keeps or that from day one, the bulk of the red barn staff were on less than a living wage?

  2. Kurt 2

    Ah, the article said ” because it paid its 4 male workers the same pay rate as its 100 female workers it was complying with the equal pay act”. Umm, unless I’m high on crack does this not mean the woman ARE getting equal pay????

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.1

      No. Did you read the whole article? Just that every news report I’ve seen on this case answers your question, which begs the question: are you a bit challenged?

  3. Yes 3

    If only labour agreed to sort this out when first arose, this is a good case and I support it

  4. Descendant Of Sssmith 4

    It would be interesting to see the historical change in wage rates since the 80’s reforms for male dominated occupations versus female dominated occupations.

    The same again for ethnicity.

    There’s no doubt in my observation at least that females and ethnicities have been most disadvantaged by the neo-liberal environment.

    Nurses, cleaners, and so on versus police, lawyers, freezing workers, etc.

    I’m picking we would see quite a substantial drop for the former initially when things like penal rates were taken away and then a slow rate of rise less than inflation while the latter will show much more steady increases. Even the works with all it’s industrial issues will be more positive than most of the female dominated occupations.

    Forestry and bus driving would be interesting for males.

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