23 Feb 2018

'I'm just a simple girl who likes to go to work' - NZer of the year

10:01 am on 23 February 2018

Equal-pay advocate Kristine Bartlett is the New Zealander of the Year for 2018.

Ms Bartlett is one of six major award recipients who were honoured last night. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented her with the award at a gala ceremony at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland.

She told Morning Report she was in shock when she heard she had won the award.

"I initially didn't even want to accept when I was asked to go to the semifinals. I don't like the limelight, I was just so happy that we won the campaign that we worked hard for.

"And that's all I really worked to do. I didn't want any accolades at the end of that and I was gonna carry on with my life. I didn't expect this, and I didn't expect to win."

Ms Bartlett was the face of a long-running campaign that successfully argued aged-care workers were underpaid because theirs was a woman-dominated sector.

"It's made me so happy I can look at my fellow care workers now and say 'yes, you should have had this years and years ago'."

"I just was so used to living on that sort of money and you just manage, you've just got to manage. And yeah, we struggled. We've all struggled in this sector - some worse than others - and it's been terrible and that was what really boosted me to 'yes, something's got to be done'.

"When I was approached by my union to say would I front he case I said 'yes', I didn't even think about it. But once I got into it I thought 'oh my god what have I done' ... my face was in the paper, I was interviewed, I thought 'oh no, TV cameras', I was never used to this.

Her efforts culminated in a $2 billion settlement, passed unanimously by Parliament, which boosted the wages of about 55,000 workers by between 15 and 50 percent.

"It was daunting. Honest to god I had sleepless nights ... it was amazing to sit in those court hearings and listening just widened my eyes and I thought 'my gosh, us women have really exploited, we've not been treated fairly at all', and obviously the judges agreed.

"It's gonna carry on too. these other low-paid dominated occupations, it's set a precedent now to go for what they're worth. Women workers have obviously been left behind for too long and this is a great opportunity for them to get that gender pay gap closed.

"I've now got to reconnect with my family because these last five, six years I've felt really guilty because I put everything into this case and I loved every minute of it because carers and workers deserved everything they got by winning this case."

Ms Bartlett, who's 68 and has worked in rest homes for 24 years, joins such luminaries as Richie McCaw and Taika Waititi in winning the award.

She said she had not thought she would win.

"There was Mike King and Siouxsie Wiles, and I've actually met Siouxsie before but I've never met Mike King but I've always looked up to him and I just didn't think it would be me."

She urged workers to stand up for their rights.

"No matter what you do or what you want, you stand up for your rights cos in the end you can win it."

Along with Ms Bartlett, social entrepreneur David Cameron was awarded Young New Zealander of the Year; and the justice reform campaigner Kim Workman was named Senior New Zealander of the Year.

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