Pay Equity Through Strategic Litigation: The Role and Significance of Strategic Litigation (Under the Equal Pay Act 1972) in the 2017 $2 Billion Historic Pay Equity Settlement for Aged Care Workers
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Aged care workers in Aotearoa New Zealand achieved an historic pay equity win with a $2 billion negotiated settlement in 2017. This win, secured by strategic litigation, was realised decades after the Equal Pay Act 1972 was enacted. There is a gap in knowledge regarding the unprecedented use of strategic litigation in Aotearoa and in understanding the influence and role of social movements in successful legal mobilization. Challenging direct discrimination does not address systemic inequality. Rather substantive equality seeks remedies to overcome unfairness of outcome and to remove the disadvantage manifest in pay inequity and the gender pay gap. This qualitative socio-legal case study examined this strategic litigation phenomenon via theoretical discussion on legal and resource mobilization, legal opportunity structures (LOS), and social movement theory (SMT). A critical realist and feminist paradigm provided a theoretical lens to discuss gender undervaluation and care work. The case study methodology data included participant interviews and written legal documentation to understand this phenomenon well. The data were interpreted employing Reflexive Thematic Analysis. This study’s significance lies not only in its provision of a record of the event via the many voices of those involved but in the multiple theoretical approaches engaged to understand the case’s success. A further significance of the study is its demonstration of the importance of this precedent for future pay equity claims and insight for future policy and legislative change. A confluence of factors enabled this litigation and a convergence of theoretical approaches assisted in demonstrating the significance of framing, timing, and the human resources (activists) involved. Additional findings illustrated the role and dominance of political will and the complexity of LOS. The mixed model of theoretical perspectives and legal and social factors resulting in this legal phenomenon are encapsulated in my original contribution to the body of knowledge, termed Socio-legal Convergence Theory (SCT).