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Change-maker — Kristine Bartlett

Person cutting out a portrait of Kate Sheppard.

'Local heroes', 2015 by Sharon Murdoch. Ref: DCDL-0031644. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Read how caregiver Kristine Bartlett's social action achieved positive change for caregivers in Aotearoa. This case study provides students with an example of positive change resulting from social action.

About the case study

The case study focuses on caregiver Kristine Bartlett, who successfully campaigned for caregivers to be given a substantial pay increase based on the Equal Pay Act 1972.

In 2013, Kristine Bartlett, a Lower Hutt caregiver, lodged a claim for equal value for equal work under the Equal Pay Act 1972. This act was introduced to ensure that women and men doing the same job were paid the same wage or salary.

Kristine's story — the value of care

Kristine Bartlett has worked as a carer for the elderly for over 24 years and loves her job. Despite the skills and experience she brings to her role, in 2011, she was earning just $14.46 per hour, slightly above the minimum wage at the time. By comparison, some of New Zealand’s most highly paid CEOs earned as much in one hour as Kristine would earn after 4 months of full-time work.

Kristine and E Tū (formerly the Service and Food Workers Union) believe that women who work in female-dominated roles are being discriminated against. They said that it is likely that someone with the same degree of responsibility, skill requirement, experience and working conditions in typically male occupations would be paid more. For example, gardeners at aged-care facilities are routinely paid more than the women who work with residents. The Employment Court and the Court of Appeal agreed, ruling in favour of their case.

Pay equity

Pay equity is the same pay for work requiring similar levels of skills and responsibilities.

In April 2017, in response to the Bartlett case, the Government proposed a Bill that would enable women to raise pay equity claims with their employers rather than going through the courts. This would mean that if an employee can show that a comparable role in a non-female-dominated occupation is paid better, they can use this as the basis for negotiating for a pay increase. As well as establishing a process for employers and employees to follow to address pay equity, the proposed Bill would also clarify how to choose an appropriate job for comparison when making a pay equity claim.

An ongoing issue

In April 2017, 5 years, 3 court cases and 2 appeals after Kristine’s court case for equal pay began, the Government decided to give pay equity to about 55,000 low-paid, mainly female care and support workers. The pay these workers receive will go from $16.23 per hour to $23.50 per hour. The new amount is based on what a similarly skilled man would earn in a male-dominated industry.

The outcome of the case has implications for thousands of women who work in low wage, female-dominated occupations.

Those who supported the Bartlett case, however, have raised concerns about the implications of the proposed Equal Pay Bill. They are questioning whether it will make it harder for others to achieve what Kristine Bartlett did.

Further reading

Insight into the Kristine Bartlett equal pay case — Human Rights Commission (HRC)

Historic step forward for gender equality with implementation of Pay Equity Recommendations — HRC

Govt pay equity decision hailed as ‘historic’ step towards gender equality — 'New Zealand Herald'

Activity — research the backstory


  • What motivated Kristine Bartlett to fight for equal pay?
  • Who else was involved in the campaign?
  • What challenges did these people/organisations face? What support did they receive?

In Sharon Murdoch’s cartoon 'Local heroes' (see above), Kristine Bartlett is compared to Kate Sheppard. As a class, discuss whether you think this comparison is valid. Why or why not?

Activity — job sorting by gender

Give groups of students these salary cards:

Download the activity salary cards (pdf, 57KB)

Ask students to rank the jobs based on how well they think they are paid. Students can check their answers using the Careers NZ job database.

Careers NZ job database

Next, have the students sort the jobs into 3 groups:

  • positions more likely to be held by women
  • positions more likely to be held by men
  • positions that tend to be gender-neutral.

Discuss whether the sorting exercise suggests that there is a relationship between gender-dominated roles and rates of pay.

Discuss why caring roles tend to be paid less than other roles, even when factors such as skill level, training, level of responsibility, and working conditions are accounted for.

Discuss ways that 2 occupations could be compared in order to use one as a basis for a pay equity claim.

See what a pay equity claim looks like

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