A more than decade long campaign to close the 25% pay gap faced by nurses working for underfunded Māori and iwi health providers is in front of the Waitangi Tribunal.

Māori nurses are to share their frustration and argue that the Crown’s failure to address the pay disparity  – despite repeated submissions on inequitable funding – is evidence of institutional racism in the health sector.

The nurses will be speaking up in support of the Wai 2713 claim made by NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and Hineraumoa Te Apatu on behalf of the Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa of Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa (NZNO).  Their evidence will follow the two claims by two Māori and iwi health provider groups who started giving evidence on their similar funding and institutional racism grievances at the start of the historical Waitangi Tribunal hearing at Tūrangawaewae Marae this week

The nurses and providers claims are part of the global Wai 2575 Health Services and Outcomes Inquiry that groups together the more than 200 individual and group claims seeking the Crown to address a wide range of health-related grievances that are broken into three stages – the first focusing on primary health.

Nuku has twice taken the case for Māori nurses to the United Nations after saying  “enough is enough” following the failure of the long-running Te Rau Kōkiri campaign for pay equity for Māori and iwi provider nurses that has been ongoing since the DHB ‘pay jolt’ of 2005 created a pay gap that continues to grow.

A petition was presented to Parliament in 2008 calling for the Government to work with NZNO and the providers so that pay equity could be funded but a Health Select Committee recommendation to look into the petition issues was vetoed by the Government in 2009. The Rūnanga has also raised the issue at International Labour Organisation forums and lobbied and met with the Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Health and four health ministers.

“No one within the New Zealand government is listening, despite the fact that we have raised this issue numerous times,” says Nuku in her evidence statement filed with the Tribunal. “This is why we have had to take such expensive and dramatic methods (i.e. presenting at UN).”

Their claim says the pay disparities – which will increase with the recent DHB nurses pay settlement – are a by-product of how the Crown funds the Māori and iwi providers differently from general practices belonging to large primary health organisations.  They say the funding fails to address the differences in infrastructure investment required for Māori versus other larger health providers.  Also that funding contracts awarded to Māori providers did not allow for pay equity nor recognition of the dual competencies of many Māori nurses.

“Each year this issue remains unresolved Māori whānau continue to receive less income than the families of nurses working within district health boards and other parts of the health sector,” says the claim.

One of the Māori health provider claims also point to a 2007 Deloitte Report – prepared in response to an initial Waitangi claim  made in 2005 – indicating Māori PHOs and providers were being collectively underfunded by $21.77 million a year and they say nothing has been done by the Crown in the decade since to remedy that underfunding.

The nurses’ claim has three recommendations with the first two being for a systems-change based action plan to eradicate institutional racism across the health sector and for the “detection, prevention and eradication of racism” to be built into all health sector quality assurance systems.

The last asks that “urgent action and leadership be taken by the Minister of Health and/or the Ministry of Health to reconfigure contracting and funding processes to ensure pay parity for nurses working in Māori and iwi health providers with those elsewhere in the health sector”.

The Wai 2575 Health Services and Outcomes Inquiry, primary health claims, are being heard in a series of hearings in October and November at Tūrangawaewae Marae, in December in Wellington and finally in March next year to hear closing submissions. The stage two claims will cover three main areas with the first being mental health (including suicide and self-harm, the second being Māori with disabilities, and the last encompassing issues around alcohol, tobacco, and substance abuse. That stage is expected to begin midway through next year. There is currently no start date for the stage three claims which will cover the remaining national significant issues and eligible historical issues.


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