On Thursday 3rd May midwives from Aotearoa took to the streets in a National Day of Action. Why? Like nurses, midwives are fed up with the chronic under-funding of the maternity system. Despite having launched a Pay Equity claim with the high court in 2015 midwives have largely been ignored. In the spirit of good faith the claim was taken out of court and into mediation where a new funding model (co-designed by the College of Midwives and the MoH) was agreed on. But it is waiting to be given the green light because it will involve a significant increase in funding.
Thursday saw the culmination of a two-month long campaign to raise awareness of the issues for midwives, particularly the Lead Maternity Carers (LMCs). Charlie Ferris, an LMC from Southland started the “Dear David” campaign after being told by her accountant that her business was just not sustainable. A breakdown of costs revealed that despite working up to 80hrs a week, Charlie was earning just $7.45/hr. And she isn’t alone. One analysis of LMC work has put the average hourly rate for an urban midwife at $12.80 and $7.23 for rural practice – that’s less that half the minimum wage!
After marching through the streets of Wellington we arrived at Parliament grounds where a petition with over 13,000 signatures was presented to the Minister of Health, David Clark. We heard from a line-up of speakers including Associate Minister of Health and Minister for Women, Julie-Ann Genter. A bound book of Facebook posts was also presented, and we were assured that our impassioned pleas had “been heard”.
In New Zealand there are two arms of the midwifery workforce, the LMCs and the DHB employed ‘core’ midwives. We have a symbiotic relationship and when one arm is under stress the other arm is called upon to carry the extra load. LMCs are on-call 24/7, have no sick pay or annual leave and their travel is not billable. Effectively it’s like being a contractor but without any ability to adjust your fees. Core midwives are paid under the DHB MECA and are represented by either NZNO or MERAS. It is my opinion that the lack of industrial voice for LMCs has resulted in the situation we have now where pay and conditions have become untenable. LMCs are leaving the profession in droves and our world-class maternity system is in crisis.
There is important mahi to be done in the DHB space as well. Midwives are specialists in maternity care and undertake a four-year degree programme. Despite functioning as autonomous practitioners who have the legal authority to prescribe, diagnose and discharge we are not remunerated as such and so feel very under-valued! I am hopeful that the pay equity process which forms a key component of our NZNO MECA claim will address these disparities.
As for funding the new co-design model, well that depends on how much gets dished out in what feels like the very long-awaited budget.
This International Midwives Day will go down in history as the year we midwives stood together, LMC and core, united and impassioned in our love for our work and our belief in delivering a quality service for the people of Aotearoa.
Sarah Gilbertson (Midwife, NZNO delegate)