Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Equal Pay for Equal Value: The Case for Care Workers

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Equal Pay for Equal Value: The Case for Care Workers

Article excerpt


In 2012, Kristine Bartlett, an aged care worker, and the Service and Food Workers Union took a claim for equal pay for work of equal value under New Zealand's Equal Pay Act 1972. They claimed that Kristine's skills, responsibility, service and conditions of work were undervalued because caring for the elderly is done almost entirely by women. The last pay equity case, for clerical workers in 1986, was rejected, making Bartlett vs Terranova an important test of New Zealand law. In August 2013 the Employment Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs on questions of law, allowing gender neutral job comparisons with work done by males outside the female-dominated care sector. This article aims to make the arguments in this case - on interpreting the text and historic purpose of the Act, consistency with human rights legislation and compliance with international conventions - available to a wider audience.

Key words

equal pay, pay equity, comparable worth, gender discrimination, carers, women 's work, job evaluation


In late 2012, Kristine Bartlett, a rest home worker from Lower Hutt, and the Service and Food Workers Union (SWFU) took a case to the New Zealand Employment Court claiming equal pay for work of equal value under the Equal Pay Act 1972.1 This is the first equal value case to come before the Employment Court since 1986. The plaintiffs claimed that Bartlett's pay rate was discriminatory; that her skills, responsibility, service and conditions of work in caring for the elderly were undervalued because caring work is done almost entirely by women. Ter- ranova Homes and Care Ltd, a privately owned rest home chain, paid her $14.46 an hour - just 71c above the minimum wage despite twenty years' experience caring for frail and ill elderly patients.2 This was $4 an hour less than she would have received for the same work in a public hospital. The plaintiffs' claim under the Equal Pay Act was that Bartlett's pay rate should be the same as for jobs done predominantly by males that required the same level of skill, respon- sibility, experience and effort under similar conditions.

Bartlett vs Terranova is an important test of New Zealand law. The last equal pay for equal value case under the Equal Pay Act, 27 years ago, was rejected. At that time the Court said it had no jurisdiction to decide equal pay matters, if the parties could not, except during the im- plementation period of the Act. This decision was not appealed and over the years gave rise to perceptions that the Equal Pay Act 1972 did not, or did not adequately, allow for equal pay claims comparing women's and men's typically different jobs.

It is also a claim for higher wages for 'one of the lowest paid groups in the country' whose pay scales reflect 'historic systemic undervaluing of the caring role played by women' (Human Rights Commission, 2012).

This case is part of a broader Pay Equity Challenge campaign by women's organisations and unions. Fair pay for women, opposition to youth rates, raising the legal minimum and a Liv- ing Wage campaign are the union movement's strategies to address the growing poverty among working families that has resulted from structural adjustment policies since the 1980s (Kelsey, 1997; Podder & Chatteijee, 1998; Stillman, 2012).

This article reports on the Employment Court hearing in June 2013. It provides the histori- cal background of the 1972 Equal Pay Act, then presents the arguments put forward on both sides of the case in Bartlett and Terranova, followed by the Judgment of the Court. My pur- pose is to make these important and successful arguments available to a wider New Zealand and international audience that is unlikely to read the court records.

The historical context

Equal Pay Act 1972

Since New Zealand women won the right to vote in 1893, they have been calling for pay equal to men's (Hill, 1993). When the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1951, women public servants began campaigning for equal pay and in 1957 a broad-based Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity (CEPO) was formed. …

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