A legal battle over gender pay equality could cost the aged
care industry up to $160 million if the unions representing
caregivers are successful, the industry body says.
The country's major rest home chains are facing proceedings
under the Equal Pay Act after the Service and Food Workers
Union and the NZ Nurses Organisation filed hundreds of
applications with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA)
The move comes after a landmark Employment Court ruling
paving the way for gender pay equality.
In August, the court ruled in favour of Lower Hutt caregiver
Kristine Bartlett, who argued the $14.32 an hour she was paid
by Terranova Homes was a result of gender discrimination
under the Equal Pay Act.
Terranova is appealing against the decision, with the case
due to be heard in the Court of Appeal in February.
NZ Nurses Organisation aged care industrial adviser David
Wait said some 400 applications to the ERA had been filed on
behalf of caregivers at homes around the country.
However, the unions had asked the ERA to wait for the outcome
of the Terranova appeal before hearing the new cases.
Mr Wait said he anticipated the cases would be heard
together, with thousands more workers expected to join the
action next year.
The aged care providers facing the new proceedings are Bupa,
Metlifecare, Oceania, Presbyterian Support, Radius and Ryman
Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said the
action had been expected.
The unions had been using the Terranova case, which was now
being appealed by the association on behalf of the sector, as
a test case for the whole industry.
"At a fundamental level, this whole case is about low funding
of the aged residential care sector," Mr Taylor said.
"The problem for us is that everyone would love to be able to
pay caregivers more, but if we don't get funded [by the
Government] to a higher level, we can't pay more.
"So we're having to defend our position because let's say the
unions were successful, and caregivers' wages were put up
beyond what we're funded - that would cause a very difficult
situation for just about everybody in the sector."
Mr Taylor said the estimated cost to the industry was between
$120 million to $160 million a year.
That was how much the sector would have to pay if caregivers,
who currently earn an average of $14.80 an hour, were paid
the same as DHB-employed health care assistants, who earn
$17.50 an hour.
Metlifecare, Bupa and Ryman Healthcare referred inquiries to
the Aged Care Association, but Ryman did say in a statement
that it was committed to paying all its staff fairly.
Presbyterian Support said it had not yet seen the
applications and was in no position to comment.
A Ministry of Health spokesman said pay rates were an
employment matter between employers and employees but noted
the Government is spending a record amount in aged care.
apnz mb cr