19 Apr 2017

Care and support workers celebrate $2-billion win

From Morning Report, 6:41 am on 19 April 2017

Care and support workers are today celebrating what the Government's calling the country's largest ever pay rise.

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none Photo: 123.rf

Yesterday a $2 billion dollar pay equity settlement was announced for workers in home and community care, aged care and community residential support.

It affects 55,000 workers- most of whom are women.

It comes after resthome worker Kristine Bartlett won a case by arguing her low hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act.

Jenny Stuart, a home support worker in South Canterbury and Marianne Bishop an aged care worker in Wellington say the deal is very exciting.

Kristine Bartlett, who successfully argued in the Employment Court her low hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination.

Kristine Bartlett, who successfully argued in the Employment Court her low hourly pay rate was a result of gender discrimination. Photo: RNZ / Checkpoint

The settlement was prompted by a case bought by Kristine Bartlett against her employer TerraNova.

Terry Bell, the executive director of TerraNova, says the deal is a game-changer.

"I'm delighted for future generations of age-care clients. I think it will be very significant for their services in the long run... And I'm particularly delighted for our care-givers."

Julia Wiegandt-Goude,  the director of people at Bupa, the largest private resthome company in New Zealand told Morning Report they are still waiting to see the details of the agreement so they know exactly what it means for their staff and residents.

The Labour Party says the Government has been dragged kicking and screaming to reach the pay equity settlement and it was well over due.

But the Labour Party leader Andrew Little acknowledges that the settlement is now "a very good deal."

"I've never known the National Party or the National government to be so cock-a-hoop about centralised wage bargaining.

"That was legal action that saw the government sending in lawyers to oppose it basically every step of the way, then the court said either you sort it out and fix it or we'll have to make some decisions and impose it on you."

He says the deal now raises questions about many other workers incomes.

Jonathan Coleman

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has lauded the historic pay equity settlement with aged care workers saying the great shape of the economy allowed it to happen.

He says the deal will encourage more people to enter the workforce and stay.  

"It's going to mean a more skilled work force that develops a career path. This force turns over every three years. It's hard getting workers. There's now an incentive for workers to stay."

Dr Coleman says to help pay for it  ACC levies could go up and 11,000 people not receiving aged care subsidies will face fee increases of around $100 a week as a result of the settlement.

The former Equal Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor, who spent a week working undercover as a resthome worker as part of her year-long Caring Counts inquiry, says the deal is massive victory "fantastic, magnificent".

But she says it is disappointing care and support workers will not have their pay increase backdated.

She says the backdating issue could have turned the pay dispute into a quagmire of huge legal and fiscal ramifications.