Support workers, employers come together in fight for pay increase

Care and support workers, their employers, and the clients and residents they care for are rallying together for the first time to secure an urgent pay increase for workers in the sector before legislation that sets their pay and qualifications requirements expires in just over a month’s time.

Around 65,000 care and support workers fear an uncertain future if the Government doesn’t agree to boost funding to provide a substantial increase in their pay rates.

However, the Government has so far indicated there’s unlikely to be funding for more than 70 cents an hour per worker for an 18-month period.

Future fair pay is also far from guaranteed with the parties yet to determine how pay rates will be set beyond the current legislation expiry.

With inflation running at 6.9 percent, care and support workers, who perform essential services for elderly, disabled, or those with mental health and addiction needs, are already struggling to survive.

Aged care worker and union delegate Marianne Bishop says workers fought “for years” to get the original pay settlement put in place, which was negotiated by all three unions back in 2017.

“Workers don’t want to lose those gains, nor the important requirements that set out training and progression through the pay scales as workers grow their knowledge and experience.

“At the moment, they say they feel they are going backwards, only existing week to week.”

Many members share similar stories of hardship: having to choose between putting petrol in their car or food on the table, worrying about how they’ll pay their mortgage or rent.

Mental health support worker and union delegate Christie Cox says she cares for and loves the people she works with – some who, she says, wouldn’t be alive today without the vital work she and her colleagues do.

“But passion doesn’t pay my bills. Passion doesn’t put petrol in my car, buy me groceries.

“Passion for my job doesn’t afford me the things I need for my wellbeing.”

Home and Community Health Association CEO, Graeme Titcombe, say the Government needs to fund appropriate wage levels for support workers.

“It’s imperative if we are to retain and attract the staff necessary to continue to provide quality services to those receiving support in their homes.

“This valuable workforce has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and deserves to have their skill and dedication appropriately recognised.”

New Zealand Disability Support Network CEO, Peter Reynolds, says workers, some employers, and unions worked really hard to win the settlement for support workers back in 2017.

“We don’t want the efforts of those who fought for those gains to be wasted,” he says.

“At the end of the day, it is the impact on disabled people and others needing support that we need to keep in focus.”

Grey Power National President, Jan Pentecost, agrees: “Grey Power knows very well that care and support workers provide an essential service that many older people and others rely on every day.

“Without adequate pay and conditions, this leads to the loss of even more carers and inadequate care, leaving vulnerable people to suffer.

“A likely outcome, if nothing is done, is an increase in ill health and even fatalities – don’t these older folk, others, and the workers who care for them deserve better?”

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