Pay equity for women has again reached the courts, with thousands of workers and employers keenly watching the result.
The question about whether women should be paid the same as similarly skilled men in different industries was heard by the Court of Appeal yesterday.
The result of the case, which pits the Service and Food Workers Union against the aged-care sector, could have a drastic impact on other female-dominated industries throughout the country.
In 2012, the union launched a legal challenge fronted by Lower Hutt member Kristine Bartlett, who works at rest home provider TerraNova Homes & Care.
Ms Bartlett says her $14.46 hourly wage is less than would be paid to men with the same, or substantially similar, skills, arguing it was a breach of the Equal Pay Act.
In August, the Employment Court ruled in her favour, stating women in female-dominated industries could now compare themselves to men in other industries requiring similar skills.
Employers, who argued only the same work in the same industry could be compared, were outraged and TerraNova appealed.
I think it was a very bad decision which was more about law making that interpreting the law.
The Equal Pay Act was designed to stop cases where an employer might try and set different pay rates for men and women – such as saying female shop assistants are paid $14 an hour and male shop assistants are paid $15 an hour.
Parliament did not intend it to be say that (for example) nurses (mainly female) must be paid the same as police officers (mainly male). It is about saying female nurses should not be paid less than male nurses. The court’s decision was a massive expansion of the law, and one that should be made by Parliament explicitly – if that is deemed desirable.
Personally I deem it highly undesirable. Pay rates should primarily be determined by demand and supply – not by legislation.
The appeal concludes today, with the court to hear from other parties, including Crown Law, after Attorney-General Chris Finlayson asked for the Government to be represented because the decision could have “important public policy implications”.
The court’s decision is likely to be reserved.
I hope the Employment Court decision is reversed.