No excuse for preventing DHBs from giving mental health workers equal pay

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A leaked letter from the Ministry of Health to DHBs warning them not to extend equal pay to mental health support workers confirms that the Government is wilfully ignoring the current crisis in mental health, which the Public Service Association considers completely inappropriate, heartless and nonsensical.

"We were made aware of this letter yesterday, and it confirms once and for all that Minister Coleman completely undervalues mental health workers and has no regard for an impending staffing crisis in the sector," says Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretary.

"Equal pay for mental health workers is a no-brainer - it is fair, affordable and would stop the exodus of skilled mental health workers moving into the disability support and aged care workforce to seek a fair wage."

The leaked letter was made public by RNZ’s Checkpoint yesterday afternoon, and it refers to the "unlawful payment of pay equity minimum hourly rates to mental health workers", warning against any intention to provide the settlement and insisting DHBs must "cease it if an initial payment has been made."

The PSA met with Ministry of Health officials this morning, and they are considering their response. Minister Coleman has not committed to addressing the imbalance between mental health support workers and other care and support workers, and he must do so urgently to avert the growing crisis in the workforce.

"DHBs are clearly aware of the staffing crisis and the Minister needs to support them to fund increased pay rates, as well as restoring overall funding to the health sector so that decisions like this rely on common sense rather than penny-pinching," says Ms Polaczuk.

"We fought tirelessly to include mental health support workers in the settlement, but were forced by the Government’s stubbornness to exclude them in order to secure any settlement for 55,000 care and support workers."

"We have never understood why it was such a sticking point for the Government, and as a result, we have had to find other means to pursue a fair wage for these workers."

"The PSA and E tū have since filed a claim with the Employment Relations Authority on equal pay for mental health workers, and we will not be letting this issue rest."