Equal pay test case moves forward

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The Employment Court recently released the interlocutory judgement in the equal pay test case that a caregiver has brought against their employer, the rest home provider Terranova Homes. The preliminary hearing, which will determine legal issues before the substantive hearing, is scheduled for the end of June.

“Counsel for the parties are agreed that the Court should hear and determine some preliminary questions of law before embarking upon what will, by any account be a lengthy and complex [substantive] hearing into issues of equal pay and/or pay equity in employment in the residential aged care sector,” Chief Judge Graeme Colgan stated.

The point of the preliminary hearing is to ‘streamline’ the issues to be investigated in the substantive hearing, according to Catherine Stewart, employment law barrister. “Since the legislation has not been tested for a very long time, the purpose of the questions is to give clarity around the scope and meaning of the legislation before the substantive hearing starts,” Stewart said.

In the interlocutory judgement, Judge Colgan observed that the Court has only been asked on ‘very few occasions’ to determine issues of equal pay, and that the court’s findings could have repercussions beyond the immediate case.

“These issues are important ones in the burgeoning residential care sector for the community and the principles that may emerge from the litigation will probably have a broader ripple effect on  other sectors where there is a combination of female-dominant and low-paid workforces,” Judge Colgan wrote.

The plantiff, who is supported by the Service and Food Workers Union, is a caregiver with Terranova Homes and has accused the defendant and her employer, Terranova Homes, of a breach of the Equal Pay Act. “The main thrust of the Equal Pay Act is that employers may not offer unequal payment or work conditions for the same or substantially similar work for me and women,” Stewart explained.

A single judge will preside over the preliminary hearing, while substantive hearing will involve the full court.


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