A High Court case in Auckland this week will highlight the low wages aged care workers receive in the private sector compared with their District Health Board counterparts, the New Zealand Aged Care Association says.
The Service and Food Workers Union Nga Ringa Tota is taking a case on behalf of their member Kristine Bartlett who is a long-term caregiver at Terranova Homes and Care.
She said her hourly wage of $14.46 was less than what would be paid to male employees with the same, or substantially similar skills, the union said.
The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) along with Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions, is intervening in the court case.
The association's chief executive Martin Taylor said while on the face of it the case appeared to be about employment conditions of one provider, the reality was with Ms Bartlett being funded by the union, the case was between the union and all of New Zealand's aged care providers.
The outcome of the case could have "huge ramifications" on the aged care industry, potentially costing it hundreds of millions of dollars if the union succeeds in this action, Mr Taylor said.
"Discrimination does not exist in aged residential care on the basis of gender, but I can say categorically that discrimination does exist in the health sector based on whether you are a private sector caregiver or a public sector caregiver.
"It's well known DHBs are funded to pay their caregivers at around $18 per hour while our funding only supports an average wage of around $15 per hour."
Successive governments had paid caregivers in DHB-owned and operated hospitals and aged-care facilities at a higher level than they funded private providers, Mr Taylor said.
"That's where the discrimination lies and it's at the heart of disparities between those caregivers employed in the public sector and those in the private sector. That's why our association has been advocating for pay equity since 2005."
TerraNova Homes and Care Ltd worked no differently to most other aged-care providers and paid about the industry average of just under $15 per hour, and had a pay scale based on performance and training, he said.
"We believe this case will prove TerraNova has not discriminated on the basis of gender, but rather that private aged-care providers need increased government funding so that caregivers can be paid the same rate as those employed in DHB facilities."