A win-win for home support
The PSA has reached a ground-breaking agreement with the government and employers that will improve the lives of home support workers and improve the chance of services being available if we need them in later life. We asked home support worker Jenny Goodman about it.
Tell me about your job
I’m a home support worker with Healthcare NZ in Christchurch. My job involves visiting people in their homes and helping with things like showering, providing medication, meal preparation, and household management. It all depends on the client’s care needs. I’ve been doing this work for 15 years.
What keeps you?
The work gives me a sense of achievement. You’re making a difference to people’s lives and helping them to be independent. It’s a more holistic approach if they are in their own home and I think it’s better for them health-wise.
It’s certainly not the wages. The only time I’ve had an increase in seven years was last year when the minimum wage went up to $14.25 and I got an extra 15 cents. That’s in part because the district health board holds on to some of the funding that’s meant for home support.
Will the agreement make a difference?
I think it’s good. It will ease the financial burden for support workers who are on the minimum wage or very close to it. The best part is the payment for the time we spend travelling between clients. We have not been compensated for this in the past even though it’s part of the job.
The other positive is they are looking at guaranteed hours of work. At the moment, if a client goes into hospital, for example, our work is cut. While the company tries to replace the hours, there’s no guarantee. We don’t know what we are going to get in our pay packets from fortnight to fortnight. I feel sorry for single mothers who are really struggling with no other income.
You were prepared to go to court to put the case for travel time support workers
I just felt it was time that support workers were recognised for the sterling work they do. I was prepared to put the case that travel time was work time. It’s a requirement that I have to provide a car or some mode of transport and travel between clients.
The reason it didn’t go to court, in my opinion, was that the government looked at the case and thought it would be like another sleepover case. They realised they’d better try and avoid that and take the bull by the horns and come up with a solution.
What will the agreement mean for the industry?
What’s so good about the agreement is that even though it was union instigated, everybody in the sector will benefit. It will be a win-win situation for the whole sector.
Home support is saving the government millions by keeping people out of rest homes and hospital. But the workforce is getting older and if they can’t recruit more support workers, there’s going to be a crisis. When I first started, I had one client who was 90. Now I’ve got three clients in their 90s and one is 98. The population is ageing so there’s a growing demand for services and the needs are becoming more complex.
What needs to be done to recruit more support workers?
For the government to make the system work, the funding should be ring-fenced to cover support workers’ wages so they’re not at the bottom of the pile after everyone else has taken their bit. As it is now, everybody is clipping the ticket from the fund for home support, whether it’s the DHB or the service provider.
The PSA has the right approach but the sector has been neglected for so long, we are now only playing catch up. The government has to realise that platitudes don’t put food on the table for low-paid workers.
This article is from the December 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.