She’s small in stature, but Lower Hutt aged care worker Kristine Bartlett has scored a colossal victory for about 55,000 of her mainly female colleagues.
Tuesday’s landmark pay equity decision has been the culmination of five years of hard graft by Bartlett and her union colleagues, which eventually led to the Supreme Court.
For Bartlett, being the catalyst in securing the $2 billion Government settlement for care and support workers across the country was, at times, overwhelming.
“This is going to be the biggest pay rise we’ll ever get, and it’s going to be a life-changer,” she said as her voice quivered.
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“They’ll be able to have a bit of dignity in their lives, and hopefully bring them out of poverty.”
After spending two decades working in the industry for the minimum wage, Bartlett chose to take an Equal Pay Act case against her employer, TerraNova Homes and Care, in 2012.
The 68-year-old argued that, because the aged care sector was female-dominated, she was being underpaid because of her gender – and the courts agreed.
But before the Employment Court was called upon to set a fair pay rate for Bartlett, the Government intervened, resulting in Tuesday’s historic pay settlement.
Scores of union affiliates in Thorndon cheered and applauded when news of Prime Minister Bill English’s announcement filtered through.
Bartlett, who confessed to being “a very shy person”, hoped her story would empower others in low-paying industries to challenge the status quo.
“Stand up. Speak. Be strong. Stand up for your rights.
“If you don’t stand up, you’re not going to get anywhere. Look what’s happened with my case. I stood up, had the support, and look – we won … we won.”
Aside from the birth of her children, she said Tuesday’s result was her greatest accomplishment.
She fought back tears as she recounted some of the tales of financial hardship shared by her fellow care workers throughout her five-year journey.
“It breaks your heart to hear some of their stories. Get sick, can’t afford to go to the doctor. Come to work without food. Walk in the rain because they’ve got no bus fares.”
She plans to spend the next few days coming to terms with the enormity of the decision, but has pledged to be back at work on Monday.
With her new pay rate due to come into effect in July, she will now have some time to ponder what she’ll spend her new money on.
“I’ll have to look twice, three times probably,” she laughed.
“I’ll have to wait and see it first to believe it, because we’ve waited so long. It’s going to be absolutely brilliant.”