Mark Sainsbury: Care workers' historic pay rise tempered by decades of exploitation

OPINION: This is a historic day. It's not often that more than 50,000 low-income care workers get some good news – a 43 percent pay rise.

But let's be brutally honest - the reason the pay hike is so massive is that these workers were being exploited to begin with.

People like Kristine Bartlett, the rest home caregiver whose test case paved the way for thousands of her co-workers to benefit as well.

Her case saw the convergence of three distinct influences. The workers affected were largely women, it was an area with traditionally low pay and it was the Government's influence - or lack of it - that allowed this extortionate and discriminatory practice to flourish.

Kristine's union – yes, there is still a vital place for groups representing workers' rights - took the case on her behalf, arguing the rates were low as it was predominantly work undertaken by women.

The rate paid was also determined by the Government in terms of how much it subsidised rest home services.

It must have seemed a David and Goliath battle. After all, successive governments had been happy to let this disgraceful practice continue, what was in for them to see this happen?

Well reality was the decider, the reality that the caregivers were winning this case and so the Government had to move to work with employers and unions.

Sure, the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere but that's no excuse for underpaying human beings.

We owe so much to Kristine Bartlett and the other cases the Service and Food Workers' Union took on; workers struggling for all those years because of the mentality it was "women's work", doing work we couldn't or wouldn't do, for a pittance.

Waging their battle through the courts right up to the Supreme Court has got us to where we are today.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.