Yesterday I went to Parliament with a couple of lovely colleagues and a couple of awesome caregiver delegates.
We had a plan: to share our stories with a group of MPs, to hear about an MP’s work life and to get a commitment from them to help us achieve equal pay.
Janine works at a Harbourview in Papakowhai. She’s got 17 years’ experience as a caregiver and she earns $17 an hour. Janine joked about that being a dollar a year – we all laughed with her – but it’s actually not that funny. I guess when you’re being paid so little, black humour is a tool to get you through the week.
Dilani works at Cashmere Home in Johnsonville. Her shift yesterday started at 5am. By the time we got to Parliament at 12.30pm she was pretty tired. Dilani tells it like it is, when we asked her what she thought MPs actually did, she cracked up. “They sit in flash seats and yell at each other!” Later on we went to “Question Time” and discovered she was exactly right – for that bit of their job, at least.
Going to Parliament and visiting members of Parliament is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many New Zealanders and a really big deal. Neither Dilani nor Janine were phased in the least; they both knew what they wanted to say to MPs and what they wanted to know. They were confident in themselves and able to talk eloquently about both their working lives as caregivers and issues in the aged care sector generally.
We went through security (just like at an airport) and waited for our Labour Party host on big leather couches in the Beehive. Matt from Kris Faafoi’s office met us and escorted us through to Parliament House and up the antique lift to the 3rd floor.
We did the usual hand-shaking, smiling and shuffling around – Who should sit where? What’s the best angle for taking photos? Yes, I’d love a glass of water, thanks.
We ended up with Janine and Dilani sitting on either side of MP David Clark, which was perfect. David, Dilani and Janine chatted away like they’d known each other for years.
Another couple of MPs, Kris Faafoi and Jenny Salesi raced back from their respective Select Committee duties and joined us soon after that.
The conversation ranged widely. From comparing pay and conditions of the two different roles to traversing issues around training, especially the lack of training for the kind of palliative care that happens much more often now in residential aged care.
As we left the office to go to our next appointment in Bowen House Deilani and Janine commented on the authenticity of the meeting. They felt like something really meaningful had happened in the room. I guess they noticed because it wasn’t what they had expected. We were all, MPs and caregivers alike, able to be ourselves, warm and human. I believe that when we take the time to “get” each other, that’s how change and progress happens.
Jessie from Jan Logie’s office came to meet us at the leather couches to take us through the Beehive, underneath the street and then back up into Bowen House. I suppose if you work there you get used to it all but for us it was an eye-opener! The art! The corridors! The people walking swiftly and purposefully!
The Green’s office didn’t seem to have that frantic vibe – we were greeted warmly by three women MPs, who had arranged a lovely kai for us.
Dilani and Jan had already made a connection earlier in the week and it showed. They picked up their conversation where they’d left off and Dilani invited Jan to their Caregiver Week celebration at Cashmere.
MP Catherine Delahunty spoke movingly of the difference caregivers had made to her family as they went through the long farewell to a loved one with dementia. She said, “We didn’t need those skills because you have them. You should be paid properly for them.” She also said, “Bankers, no! Caregivers, yes!” Her statement clearly resonated with the caregivers.
MP Julie Anne Genter shared her diary with us and I think we were all surprised at how jam-packed an ordinary MPs day is. Jenn asked Janine and Dilani afterwards whether they would want an MP’s job. It took less than a quarter of a second for them both to exclaim, “NO WAY!” Dilani said she loves being a caregiver, and she’d love to be paid fairly as well.
At ten to two the bells started ringing and the MPs jumped up, wished us a swift but warm farewell and departed for the House. They called, “Stay and finish the food!” So we did. And had a coffee and a debrief.
We all had smiles on our faces, and ready laughter. Making a difference doesn’t need to be dreary and formal. We made a difference yesterday and it was awesome!
We’re part of a movement for equality and we were all proud to add our contribution yesterday. When Dan dropped us back at work I really wanted to give everyone a hug (but I didn’t, because I’m not that kind of person).
By Liz Robinson, NZNO Communications Adviser.