The Nurses Organisation says changes are needed so caregivers in aged care can be recognised for skills and training acquired in other countries.
Some 284 caregivers responded to a survey of 1000 members of the Nursing Organisation. The union released the findings on Friday.
The survey says there are between 18,000 and 65,000 unregulated caregivers working in aged care in New Zealand - mostly middle-aged women earning an average of $14.40 an hour.
Though 8% of those surveyed have nursing or caregiving qualifications recognised in New Zealand, 80% do not have qualifications.
The survey says caregivers often have to perform jobs normally considered the domain of nurses, including administering medicines unsupervised, monitoring blood glucose and inserting catheters. Such duties make them anxious, but there is no alternative.
Nurses Organisation researcher Dr Leonie Walker says that is unfair.
"Some of the scandals in the sector have shown that this issue is a really important one to all New Zealanders.
"But if you're paying people minimum wage rates, then expecting people to undertake these really responsible and intimate tasks is just not fair."
The union wants appropriate pay progression and better training and career progression.
According to the survey, caregivers resent their low pay and unskilled status, and want to be respected and valued for the work they do.