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Pay Equity Settlement Still a Mess in Need of Fixing

Kristine Bartlett has received the distinct honour of being named New Zealander of the Year in 2018. But the mess of a botched implementation of pay equity remains a huge issue in the care and disability space.

It’s no secret that I’ve been a critic of the pay equity settlement, and I remain so today. From my perspective, the deal did nothing but compound the financial problems for care providers, particularly in the disability space. They were struggling to pay their workers as it was, and then they were legally forced to increase wages, regardless of how good workers actually were at their jobs.

An unreliable worker, responsible for the care and well-being of disabled people and/or the elderly could now earn well past $22 per hour, regardless of if the people he/she served were satisfied with the quality they were getting.

How was that the right and decent thing to do? Were these bad workers suddenly going to improve overnight following a pay rise? If that latter question is answered with a yes, then surely doesn’t that lead to a completely different conversation altogether?

Level 3 certificates and higher also don’t make a good care worker. Attitude does, and sadly, prior to the settlement, there were many that just decided to complete the training in order to get a fraction of more money. Rightly so to, even care workers have to put food on the table.

Kristine Bartlett, talking on TVNZ’s Breakfast show on Friday, said that care workers were exploited prior to pay equity.

“We care workers have been so undervalued and have basically been exploited. We did it because we love our vulnerable old people. Signing that deal with Jonathan Coleman was the biggest day, $2.6billion and you just couldn’t believe it.”

On Thursday, I wrote a blog about advocates in the disability space going unpaid for their work. They do it out of passion and determination, plus many of them are disabled themselves. Furthermore, many of those advocates have had to deal with care workers who were downright terrible at their duty of care, and that has led them to start down the road of advocacy.

Aren’t those advocates, too, undervalued and exploited?

No one is saying that care workers don’t deserve fair and equal pay. But the reality is that the money has to come from somewhere.

The previous Government were forced into agreeing to the settlement, knowing full well that the money wasn’t there to implement it. What the Government also knew is that many disabled people using Individualised Funding and under Enabling Good Lives would have their hours of support cut. Budgets were topped up a fraction, but the deficit still remained, leading to connectors actively trying to convince EGL participants to lower their support hours wherever possible. Some participants weren’t even given a new contract, just a variation to their original 12-month agreement with details of how pay equity provisions were added in.

Now, less than a year later, it seems like every female-dominated industry is advocating for their right to pay equity. From the very get go, people were saying things like “well if care workers can get paid this much then why can’t we”, and that led to many industries, including education and health, to go scrambling to their unions with arms in the air in outrage.

For as justified as the pay equity deal is, the mess that it’s left behind continues to need cleaning up.

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