Why Kristine Bartlett, 2018 New Zealander of the Year, didn't expect to win

The winner of this year's Kiwibank 2018 New Zealander of the Year says she didn't expect to hear her name called out on Thursday night.

Kristine Bartlett, who helped secure a pay rise for 55,000 low-paid, mainly female care and support workers, was announced as this year's recipient.

"Little did I know how big it was going to get," she told The AM Show, speaking of the court case she agreed to take on.

Ms Bartlett argued her employer, Terranova Homes, violated the equal pay for equal work legislation by paying her less, due to the fact she was in a female-dominated industry.

The Government signed a $2 billion settlement on the case on April 18, 2017 - bumping care workers' pay from $15.75 per hour to $23.50 per hour.

"I honestly didn't think I was going to win this," she said, before giving high praise to other individual nominees.

"They all deserve an award."

When her name was read out at the ceremony Ms Bartlett said she "froze".

"I sat there and I couldn't move. I couldn't move. I don't know how long I sat there for until my friend said Kristine, you've got to go up.

"And when I got up there I couldn't speak. I don't remember what I said. Honestly I don't."

Being a care worker herself, Ms Bartlett said minimum wage was all she had ever known.

"This case was well-deserved. It really was. The carers work so hard out there and they have to be acknowledged. We have been so unrecognised and left behind.

"It's caring, loving, supporting, being there for our older person.  They're like our families - that's how we look at our work. They're like our mothers and fathers, our uncles and aunties.

"We treat them just like we would our own family.

"I just love getting up every morning, half past five, can't wait to get to work because I love being with them."

Ms Bartlett said "everybody being happy for what has happened" is enough of a prize.

Because of Ms Bartlett's actions, within five years, care workers' wages will be $27 per hour - an increase of 71 percent.