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18,000 signature petition for homecare workers

18,000 signature petition for homecare workers

By Jackie Edkins, Rural Women New Zealand

Seventy-seven years after a delegation called on the Government to reimburse travel expenses for homecare workers, Rural Women New Zealand is returning to Parliament on 2 December to present an 18,000-signature Petition with the same plea.

The home-based care industry is in a state of crisis, with very high staff turnover – anecdotally around 50% per annum – and thousands of referrals being turned down due to the lack of available workers.

A key issue is that travel workers must meet their own travel costs and are not paid when travelling between clients. In order to be paid for a 40 hour week, those in rural areas may actually have to work closer to 70 hours.
There are over 20,000 home care workers – 95% of whom are women. They are amongst New Zealand’s lowest paid workers, receiving an average $10.50 per hour (for those providing domestic assistance) and $11.50 an hour for those providing personal care.

But once tax and travel costs are taken into account, this wage can be severely eroded, particularly for workers in rural areas who have long distances to travel between clients.

Home carers provide housekeeping and personal assistance to the elderly and infirm – the most vulnerable members of our society. It is a key service that enables people to stay in their own homes, rather than being removed from their communities to go to rest homes, sometimes far away. But it is a service that is sadly undervalued by those with the purse strings.

Recruitment and retention problems are at crisis level. In some areas workers are no longer taking on any new cases and those who need home help may have to rely on friends, neighbours or family to provide the support they need.
The Government increased funding by $15.5 million in the May 2005 Budget, but this is not nearly enough.

A substantial injection of funding is required, in the region of $100 million. This would enable the providers to give workers pay-parity with DHB Aides, (who perform similar work), reimburse workers’ travel costs and travel time, and restore provider margins to 10%.

The Government needs to tackle the problem in its entirety, rather than tinkering around the edges.

Of the $15.5 million Budget increase, $4 million has already been spent on prior cost increases, including holiday pay requirements, and as yet none of the remaining $11 million has been paid out. The Government has now said this must be spent on travel costs, but it is tied to provider companies putting in place a “fair travel policy”.

Meanwhile the DHBs and the Ministry of Health are grappling with the problem of coming up with “fair travel policy” guidelines, and the provider companies say this is an impossibility.

RWNZ is particularly fearful about the impact of the “fair travel policy” for rural areas, where geographical distances between clients are greater, and DHB funding is less due to a smaller population base. DHBs in urban areas require a 12 to 16% increase in current funding to meet travel costs, whereas in rural areas DHBs would require a 45 to 50% increase.

Rural Women New Zealand urges anyone who wishes to support our Petition to come along to Parliament at 11am on Friday 2 December.

Given our 77 year history in getting some traction for this issue, it seems only fitting that a rural woman from that era is there in full period costume, including a 1920s vintage car!


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