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“Women’s Work”

In the wake of the historical care worker pay settlement, I want to take minute to reflect on how this impacts women and men all over New Zealand.

This settlement was based around how we value ‘women’s work’. Women’s work is a term used particularly in the West to indicate work that is believed to be exclusively the domain of women and associates particular tasks with the female gender.

The case claimed that a caregiver’s pay is less than what would be paid to a male with the same skill set in a different occupation due to the fact that caregivers are predominantly female. The Court of Appeal found that the Equal Pay Act 1972 went beyond requiring equal pay for men and women doing the same work, which had been the previous view, but required equal pay for men and women doing different work deemed to be of the same value (pay equity).

Equal pay vs Pay equity

Equal pay refers to women and men receiving the same remuneration for doing the same job. This might be, for example, a male drainlayer and a female drainlayer being paid the same wages. Until the Equal Pay Act 1972, it was legal to set separate rates of pay for men and women, and to exclude women from certain types of work.  Pay equity, however, is the principle that women and men should receive the same remuneration for doing different jobs that are of equal value. For example, a male drainlayer receives the same pay as a female cleaner if the ‘value’ of the work is determined to be the same.

Behaviour, attitudes, and biases

Many media outlets have reported the proposed equal pay settlement will make a huge difference to 55,000 mainly female caregivers and is a significant step towards addressing gender inequality in New Zealand. This is an important thing to remember as in New Zealand we currently have a gender pay gap of 12 percent. I assume, like myself, most New Zealanders would like that percentage to drop considerably. However, the government claims that this gap is due to the behaviours, attitudes and biases, both conscious and unconscious of employers and employees alike.

Many testimonials have come forth during the reporting of this case saying how indispensable care workers are. I personally have had many conversations with people saying that without care workers, looking after their mother or father would have been inconceivable. There is no denying the work that care workers engage in is challenging and deserves the recognition it is now receiving. Although the court has ruled that this type of work should be valued more than it has been in the past – how do we personally value this work? And how do we value this work in relation to our own occupation?

Aged care workers, many of whom do not have any official tertiary qualifications may end up earning more than those who have been to university. How do we feel about that?
For some this might be not confronting at all, but for those who work in close contact with care workers, this might be harder to get past.

In keeping with the examples above, in a normal workday drainlayers would usually only work with people who have a similar set of skills and the same training as them, with varying degrees of experience. Aged care workers work in a different environment. They are in constant contact with those who have higher level qualifications, who may have student loans and who are not receiving a pay rise.

The question is does this matter? How do we feel about it?

For decades aged care worker have been undervalued and underpaid, finally they are getting the pay and recognition they deserve which others in the industry have been able to enjoy. Why should others then expect more?

These are all important questions that we all need to ask ourselves. We want to support the sisterhood, but this requires us to get over our unconscious and conscious bias and attitudes and realise that this is a positive for all of New Zealanders as it strives to make New Zealand a more fair and equal place for all its inhabitants. I will end this with a quote from Suzanne McNabb, TEU’s national women’s officer:

“Caregivers are so often the unsung heroes for thousands of families around New Zealand who depend on caregiver’s vast expertise, patience and remarkable skills to care for their loved ones. It is fantastic that they will finally be paid enough to support themselves and their own families”

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams
Eve Williams is the Production and Social Media Administrator for Eldernet. She has a passion for learning new things.


  1. I agree at long last women’s work is (to pick up on Marilyn Wearing ground breaking work) ‘Counting for Something’!!!

  2. A thought provoking , well written article. Thank you Eve

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