It’s been five years since care and support workers achieved historic pay increases and improved conditions - hard won by workers and their unions - under the landmark Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act 2017.
It was a fight set in motion by a joint campaign – Up Where We Belong – launched in 2007 by the PSA and E tū to improve pay and conditions for some 60,000 low-paid care and support workers across Aotearoa.
The campaign involved tireless work on the part of PSA members, boosted by a court case involving E tū member Kristine Bartlett, who claimed, due to gender discrimination, she was not being paid in line with the Equal Pay Act.
The case, championed by the PSA, E tū and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), was eventually escalated to the Supreme Court, which found care and support workers – the majority of whom are women – had long been paid less for their work than if it had been carried out by a man.
A settlement was reached. It offered increased funding to the sector, ‘life-changing’ wage increases, and the opportunity for workers to progress up the pay scale by completing different levels of training every year.
The entry rate for an aged care, disability or home support worker went from $15.75 to $19 an hour, while the top rate for fully qualified workers was lifted from $23.50 to $27 an hour.
An extra $2 billion dollars of much-needed investment finally reached the industry and our members’ demand for sleepover pay – to compensate them for staying overnight at clients’ homes – was finally realised.
Speaking at the time, PSA delegate Helen Amey said: “I’ve been doing this job for three years and I’m still paid the minimum wage. I need to work four jobs to make ends meet and support my family.
“This settlement means I’ll finally be rewarded – not just with kind words from my clients – but financially as well.”
PAY EQUITY PROGRESS
The settlement’s significance wasn’t limited to the home and support sector. It marked a tentative step toward pay equity in Aotearoa.
PSA assistant national secretary Melissa Woolley says: “You only need to look at the introduction of fair pay agreements (FPAs) to see the country is – rightly – moving toward a system where we set minimum rates of pay for entire sectors.
“The settlement set a precedent for FPAs by raising the bar on minimum rates and conditions within the home and community sector.”
SET UP TO FAIL
With the settlement set to expire at the end of June, the PSA, E tū and NZNO have entered discussions with the Government to lock in and improve the pay rates secured under the settlement.
The Government’s current offer of approximately 2.5 - 3 per cent amounts to less than half of the current rate of inflation.
This represents a significant pay cut for workers, leaving this essential workforce with a difficult choice: leave for a better paid, less stressful job, or keep supporting vulnerable people while facing soaring living costs they can't keep up with.
It’s vital that we speak up in support of our negotiators who will meet with Ministry of Health officials and employer representatives over the coming months, to ensure the settlement is urgently renewed.
PSA delegate Michelle Troup says we owe it to the care and support workers whose lives improved dramatically under the settlement.
“I would be devastated if the settlement wasn’t extended,” Michelle says. “It would feel like we are being silenced and stopped in our tracks.
“Since my pay went up, I’ve been in a better position to pay my bills. I haven’t needed to take out loans or increase my mortgage.
“I’ve enjoyed a better quality of life; I’ve been able to buy better food, spend more time with my kids, pay for them to join sports clubs and even send them to a tutor.”
Michelle says the settlement finally made her feel recognised for her work.
“I know my job is important,” she continues. “Our industry would come to a grinding halt if we downed tools or moved onto less taxing mahi.
“We shouldn’t have to prove our worth.”
Michelle says it’s vital that members – across different sectors and industries – stand in solidarity with care and support workers during this crucial fight.
“With inflation on the rise, this will affect every sector somewhere down the line,” she explains.
“If employers see other industries standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, it makes it that much harder for them to refuse our demands.
“We need to stand together until that domino effect starts to take place.”
Click here to write to Minister of Health, Andrew Little. Tell him why the equal pay matters to you and your whānau. Tell him why the settlement needs to stay.