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Rest Home Worker's Employment Court Case Could Pave Way for Challenges to Pay Rates in Early Childhood Education

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The early childhood education sector should be closely following an Employment Court case that could have implications for any industry that employs a high percentage of females.

The case centres on a rest home worker who is paid just over the minimum wage despite having been in the job for 20 years with the company that employs her. In a preliminary ruling on legal issues surrounding the case, which has been brought the woman’s union, the Employment Court ruled that the woman’s situation could be compared against other not female-dominated industries to see whether the company is breaching the Equal Pay Act by offering such low wages.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the caregiver argue that if her profession had more male workers, the standard pay rate would be higher and it seems the Employment Court may agree. The court ruling suggested that female dominated industries continued a bias against women by undervaluing work that was traditionally done by women.

The company argued that the four men employed in the same job were paid the same rate. However, the court ruled that this was not enough evidence to suggest that the company was not discriminating against women and that it may be the case that the men were being paid a lower wage because they were doing something seen as “women’s work”. Instead, the caregiver’s pay rate should be compared against the wages of men with comparable skills in occupations that were not so female dominated the court ruling said.

The outcome of such a case could have an impact not only on the care industry, but also on other female dominated industries such as early childhood education, and has been hailed as a huge step forward in the equal pay for equal work debate by unions and lobby groups.

If the case were to be successful it would pave the way for rest home workers to lobby for a pay increase and open the door for workers in other female dominated industries to make a case for increased pay in their  sectors.  However, the chief executive of the Aged Care Association said such a ruling would cause trouble for the sector and that many companies not able to afford major pay increases for staff would therefore close down.

The rest home company can appeal the decision. The next step in the case will be to decide on suitable occupations for comparison. These may include groups such as public hospital healthcare assistants and prison guards.

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