Pay equity is well overdue

E tū members in care and support are still waiting for proper recognition of their work through the pay equity process. Using a new mechanism set up under the previous Labour Government, care and support workers have made a pay equity claim and have been working with employers to establish better benchmarks for wages, while urging decision makers to fund the sector properly.

It all started in the care and support sector. The Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act 2017 was the result of E tū caregiver Kristine Barlett’s historic legal victory, proving that low pay in the sector was the result of gender-based pay discrimination. We won huge increases for these essential workers who traditionally been paid near the minimum wage.

Since then, other groups of workers such as teacher aides, nurses, and healthcare assistants have made pay equity claims and made some serious gains. However, six years after our victory, care and support workers have fallen behind, with our original settlement expiring this month.

E tū and other unions launched a second pay equity claim in November, which includes over 100 employers in the sector. As central government funding pays for the important services in care and support, it is big institutions like the Ministry of Health and Te Whatu Ora who need to step up and fund a proper pay equity settlement.

Marianne Bishop, a caregiver and the Convenor of E tū’s Care and Support Industry Council, says that the wait is unacceptable.

“Everybody’s frustrated with the fact that it’s taking so long,” she says.

“We have only had up to a 3% pay rise in the last year, with some of us getting nothing, despite the cost of living increasing so much more than that. Everyone is really struggling, especially our colleagues in home support who have to cover their own vehicle costs and other expenses.”

The government departments have recently called for another review of the work in the sector, even though unions and employers have worked together to establish what pay equity in the sector would really look like.

“It’s like they are saying we’re lying about what we do in our job. We have done the appropriate work to establish some good benchmarks. But the funders have come back and rejected our work. It’s an insult.

“What I keep saying is I’m really impressed with the three unions and the major employers coming together to actually do this collaboratively. We all realise that we need the workers, but we need the funding too – and we need to work together to get it.

Marianne has a simple message for the new Government: “Fund the sector properly.”

“It’s stupid that the sector has always been so underfunded. People pay taxes their whole lives, but then have to fight for the care they need when they are older.

“We have an ageing population and an ageing workforce. What’s going to happen in 10, or 20 years’ time? How are going to attract new people into the industry if they can’t earn a living? It’s just not going to work.

“We won the first settlement under a National Government in 2017, now it’s time for them to step up again. They keep saying that people voted for change, well now it’s time to really change things for people who need care and those who provide it.”