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Honouring Caregivers On International Women’s Day

March 7, 2002

The working lives of thousands of New Zealand women caregivers will be honoured on International Women’s Day tomorrow (March 8). NZNO and the Service and Food Workers’ Union (SFWU) are using the day to acknowledge the enormous contribution of caregivers to the care of the nation’s elderly who live in rest-homes and hospitals.

The unions want to use International Women’s Day to raise public awareness of the exploitation of thousands of women workers in the aged-care sector. Pay rates for caregivers range from between $8 to $12 an hour.

“The opportunities to work a permanent, 40-hour week and an eight-hour day are rare. Some caregivers work six or seven days a week to make up their 40 hours,” NZNO aged-care sector organiser Lesley Harry said. “The employers paying the top rates are mostly not-for-profit organsations such as religious and welfare groups. They are being undercut by the cowboys in the sector, determined to maximise shareholder profits.”

A recent New Zealand Herald supplement on the 100 wealthiest New Zealanders included three investors in major companies providing aged care, Harry said.

“We want to draw people’s attention to the invaluable work caregivers do. They have a range of skills and we want to pay tribute to their work in caring for our older citizens. They provide this care on very poor wages and conditions. In most case, employment conditions and wages are worse than they were a decade ago. Those people living in rest-homes and hospitals are increasingly frail and dependent and often require complex care. Caregivers are expected to carry out this care without adequate training and support and often they are exhausted from the long hours they are forced to work to make a living,” Harry said.

Celebrations to mark the day include a number of MPs visiting rest-homes in their electorates for a morning or afternoon tea and to talk to caregivers about their work.

NZNO estimates up to 30,000 caregivers are employed in care of the elderly. Chief executive Geoff Annals said most were undervalued in term of wages and inadequate training and support.

“Quality care of the elderly depends on quality carers but too many employers exploit their caregivers through poor wages and conditions.”

NZNO is conducting a national campaign for safe staffing levels and skills mix, quality education and fair employment terms and conditions in the aged-care sector.

NZNO is also launching a National Caregivers’ Week on March 11. It is being celebrated with a series of education forums throughout the country. Secretary of NZNO’s gerontology section, Jan Featherston, said nearly 200 caregivers would attend the Auckland forum on March 12.

“This demonstrates a real need for quality education opportunities for caregivers. Ongoing education and training is integral to quality care of the elderly, as most care is provided by caregivers,” she said. “If we want our elderly to receive quality care, we must ensure quality caregivers.”


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