Aged care workers are stressed, working unstable hours and feeling unappreciated financially, according to a newly released survey.
Eighty-five percent of aged care workers thought their wages did not reflect the emotionally taxing work they did, the 2016 New Zealand Aged Care Workforce Survey by the Auckland University of Technology found.
Lead researcher Dr Katherine Ravenswood said the majority of the respondents earned under $17 an hour, with 36 percent of them paid the minimum wage.
She said those wages did not meet living costs and she hoped the government's recent announcement of $2 billion funding for aged care workers was a step in changing that.
"They [healthcare assistants] are the key person dealing with our older people, they're the person who's providing both physical support, but often a lot of emotional support," she said.
"The majority of those people are paid the minimum wage and I think that is really quite an indictment on how we have assessed and judged their skills in our society."
The report (PDF, 3.9MB) found that up to two thirds of home and community healthcare assistants did not have guaranteed minimum work hours each week.
Dr Ravenswood said some workers also had to work one-hour shifts, creating uncertainty and pressure.
She said this showed how necessary it was to regularise and improve conditions in the sector.
Stats NZ said there were 700,000 people aged 65 years and over in 2016 and that was likely to double by 2043.
Dr Ravenswood said care agencies and providers were already increasingly looking to migrants to fill positions.
She said with an increasing demand, New Zealand could face a shortage of aged care workers if working conditions did not change.
Aged care worker says she feels burnt out
Aged care worker Tamara Baddeley said she worked 12.5 hours each day, six days a week, just to make ends meet.
She is paid $16 an hour and said she was burnt out.
"We do it because we love the work but we're sick of the pay, we're sick of the stress, we're sick of the heavy work load and lack of support from management," she said.
Ms Baddeley said the last time she had a real holiday was two years ago, after saving up for it for 15 years.
She has been a healthcare assistant for the past 17 years and she said the job could be traumatic.
"When you see them [the patients] day after day and you can see them getting worse, you become involved whether you're supposed to or not because we're all human," she said.
"The hardest part is when you walk into the house and you find them dead in bed or in the lounge and I've done that in the past as well."