Jacqueline Aberdein-Tapuai is a qualified and registered social worker with a Master’s degree - but the mum of four teenagers struggles from pay check to pay check.
“As a school social worker I’m responsible for more than 600 kids and I earn about the same amount as I did twenty years ago working in a bank.”
The PSA delegate is among the social workers from five not-for-profit providers - Barnados, Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP, Christchurch Methodist Mission, Stand for Children, and Ngāpuhi Iwi Services who have filed an equal pay claim.
They argue their work is undervalued and urgently in need of more funding.
It follows the success of a pay equity claim for Oranga Tamariki social workers last year, which resulted in 30 percent pay increases.
Jacqueline says the higher salaries at Oranga Tamariki are tempting but she loves the work she does.
“We are working with families so they can be what they want to be, achieve the goals they want to achieve with their children.”
The PSA has also filed a claim for social services workers at the five NGOs who deliver a range of other services including admin clerical, assessment, intervention, care, advocacy, counselling and supervised contact.
Jacqueline Legros is a board member of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Supervised Contact Services.
She says the job is hugely underpaid and under-appreciated. “Lawyers and judges say they cannot be without our service yet the Ministry of Justice have not increased the hourly rate in approx 10 years.”
“We have children who have been separated from significant people in their lives and we are here to reconnect them with their whānau. The reason for supervised contact can range from issues with alcohol, substances, domestic violence, or imprisonment,” she says.
“People view supervisors as just a babysitter, but they are constantly monitoring the child and providing a safe neutral space so children can create memories and rebuild relationships.”
Social service providers currently receive most of their funding from the government.
But a report for Social Service Providers Aotearoa has found a $630 million shortfall in government funding, with wages being underfunded by about $300 million a year.
PSA national secretary Kerry Davies says providers tell them they must look for private donations to try and fill the funding gap.
“We know that funding constraints prevent them from paying staff according to their levels of skill and responsibility. We say our members are worth 100% and shouldn’t have to rattle buckets to get it.”
“These workers deal every day with complex and difficult situations, whether it’s helping families in crisis or supporting survivors of abuse. But they struggle to pay household bills.”
It includes expectations public service leaders work in partnership with Māori to deliver services that work for Māori, and develop a workforce that reflects the community it serves.
While the Government’s plan for public service reform does not reverse many of the neo-liberal elements of the State Sector Act it still represents a significant step forward. The reforms will provide better mechanisms to enable cross agency work and help break down silos in government.