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Pay Equity – Op Ed

Is systemic discrimination stopping New Zealand’s 65,000 care and support workers from receiving the support and recognition they deserve? Is this gender based or is it because they are seen as unqualified and work for community organisations, not the Government.

Once again, our care and support workforce (whose numbers mirror the population of Napier) have had their pay equity claim delayed by Government officials. Undervalued and underpaid, these are the exact same workers who were deemed essential through Covid.

Where you have a predominately female workforce, there’s lots of evidence that they’re paid less than male dominated workforces. This is what pay equity is about. Readdressing this imbalance and paying our care and support workers fairly and stopping gender-based pay discrimination.

Over the last two years across two different Health Ministers, Pathways (along with 14 other employers, 4 peak bodies and 3 unions) have been following rigorous Government process to achieve pay equity for our care and support workers. Despite herculean effort, we have not been able to achieve any positive outcome.

Unlike most, pay rates for care and support workers are mandated in legislation. Due to inflation pressures and a rise in the cost of living, in real terms pay rates have now regressed back to minimum wage. In essence, our workforce has become the working poor, having only received a Government recommended 3% salary increase this year.

Ironically, this is not a workforce that will strike as they simply cannot afford a day without pay. Is it any surprise that prioritisation of wage increases has been for those workforces who can take industrial action?

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Paying care and support workers what they deserve is urgent and overdue. The current legislation expires in December 2023. This is not a secret from the Government who right now are leaving 65,000 care and support workers hanging, with no security in sight in relation to their pay rates for 2024. For many the lack of pay equity means that workers will remain on pay rates that have been established as unfair and inequitable.

Delaying this settlement is nothing less than a cynical ploy by Te Whatu Ora, who are now questioning the Pay Equity process which is outlined in the Equal Pay Act, overseen by the Public Service Commission and involves key milestones – which are required to be signed off at each stage of the process. It is deeply shameful.

As mental health and addiction care workers, their job is to support people to stay safe, to flourish, to maintain relationships with their family and whānau and seek employment opportunities - so they can become valued members and citizens of our communities. We want our workforce to thrive so they can help the people we support (our tāngata whai ora and taiohi) to also grow and thrive.

We implore any Government to commit to address pay equity for care and support workers within their first 100 days. This is an absolute priority. Not doing so is to simply turn a blind eye and to perpetuate sex-based pay discrimination.

Our workers deserve certainty, hope and to be paid fairly for the work they do. This is regardless of who is in Government. The people we support, and their whānau deserve a valued and respected workforce.

Come on New Zealand, value our people.

Sally Pitts-Brown

Chief Executive, Pathways

Pathways is one of the largest community-based mental health and addiction providers in New Zealand.

Memo Musa

Chief Executive, Platform Trust

Platform is the peak body for the mental health and addiction community sector

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