Government enters 'equal' pay rate talks

20 October 2015

Nurses' union NZNO is welcoming today's announcement that the Government will enter into pay talks for caregivers and support workers as a move towards fairer pay. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was committed to seeing caregivers and support workers recognised for their valuable work. The announcement follows the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal last year backing an Employment Court decision to go ahead with Kristine Bartlett's Equal Pay Act test case.

Coleman's carefully worded press release does not mention 'equal pay' or 'pay equity' but does talk about being confident that unions, employers and funders could replicate the "responsible approach" used to reach an agreement over travel costs of caregivers delivering home-based care. The travel costs agreement was reached in September last year and was sparked by another test case, laid by a community support worker and her union the Public Service Association, that was withdrawn as part of the agreement.

An Employment Court spokesman said today that the Bartlett vs. TerraNova case had been set down to start in November but that hearing date had been adjourned and the court was awaiting advice from counsels on both sides before setting any future hearing date.

Cee Payne, industrial services manager for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, said caregivers and nurses would welcome the opportunity to negotiate with the Government for better pay for caregivers and support workers working in residential aged care, home-based care and disability care services 

"It’s time for equal pay to be extended to women workers in Aotearoa and we are pleased our Government also agrees that caregivers and support workers should be paid fairly.”

“Attending to older family member’s physical comfort and emotional needs with sensitivity, compassion and commitment every day is important work and the pay for the people who undertake this work should reflect the skills required to do the work.”

Coleman said today the government would enter into the pay rate negotiations as care and support workers played a key role "helping our elderly and disabled people to live quality lives in their own homes and in residential facilities".

“With a growing ageing population it is important to ensure our health services can sustain future growth and continue to deliver the high quality homecare and residential care services that New Zealanders expect and deserve."

Caregiver Marita Ansin-Johnson said it was amazing to think after years of looking after her residents that she finally might be paid what she's worth.

"If this works, it will make such a difference for me. I’ll be able to put more food on the table for my family – and not just more, but better food. 

Coleman said the work done over the next few months would look at "how to best recognise the contribution of our care and support workers".  The negotiations will cover around 50,000 workers in aged and disability residential care and aged and disability home and community services. 

Bartlett and her union, the Service and Foodworkers Union initially lodged an application back in 2012 with the Employment Relations Authority claiming her employer TerraNova was in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1972 as she and other caregivers were underpaid because caregiving was largely viewed as "women's work".

The case was directed to the Employment Court, which made a preliminary decision that the hearing could compare caregiver wages to those of male pay levels in other industries.  That decision was appealed by TerraNova, to initially the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, which in December declined to hear the appeal until the initial claim had been heard.



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