This is me (listening hard!) at an NZNO delegate training day a couple of weeks ago.
My name is Dilani Perera. I am an NZNO delegate and a caregiver at a resthome in Wellington. I have been following Kristine Bartlett’s equal pay case with interest.
When I heard yesterday about the Equal Pay case decision I couldn’t say anything for a moment. It took a while to sink in. It is such a wonderful decision and I will celebrate with my family at home and my other family at work. This decision means a lot to me and to every woman who works as a caregiver in aged care.
My life has not been easy but I love my job. Most days I get up before dawn to go to work and care for my old people at work. They are my second family. I look after them and care for them the way I would want my mother to be looked after.
I feel it is a privilege and a joy to care for our elders even though it is tiring and hard work. I’m always tired when I get home and I often feel bad that my family misses out.
Yesterday the Court of Appeal has told me that this country cares about me and the work I do and that the money I get is not enough.
I have worked here for 10 years and I have passed all the qualifications and still only get one dollar more than the minimum wage.
I am a solo mother and I have brought up my three children myself, and I never have enough for them. Our house is always cold. When my children ask me for something I have to think whether it is possible this week, or next week.
If I had equal pay I would have a better home and better food and better clothes. Better everything!
I would also spend more time with my family. It took me seven years to save enough money to visit my mother back home. If I had equal pay I could visit more.
Lots of my friends at work have two jobs and are so, so tired. I want them to be happy and well and enjoying their families.
I thank my sister Kristine Bartlett and my union for giving me a better life ahead. On behalf of all caregivers and their families too, thank you.
Thank you also to the Court of Appeal who finally made me feel like the work I do is valued.
This is a short clip we filmed late last year about equal pay.
Today is International Day of the Older Person; a day to celebrate the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and tackle the barriers faced by older people.
American politician Hubert H. Humphrey was paraphrasing Ghandi when he said “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
He’s right. And there’s plenty that NZNO members might want to say about that (check out NZNO’s priorities for health here), but let’s have a look at how we value our older citizens today.
The government approach to care of older people in Aotearoa is ageist. By under-funding this sector, the government is signaling that older people don’t matter. And by extension, neither do the workers who care for them. Staff in residential aged care facilities are some of the lowest paid workers in New Zealand, and successive governments, for over 20 years, have allowed that to continue.
In one of our many submissions to government we put it this way:
“The high cost of providing substandard aged care is unsustainable and unjust: public health resources are unaccounted for; where there is a failure of care it is public health which ‘picks up the tag’ for care it has already paid for; services are being contracted out for care of our parents and grandparents with even less protection for their physical and mental wellbeing than for their financial wellbeing; public safety and our professional health workforce are being undermined: and an underclass of undervalued and underpaid workers is being embedded in our workforce while highly educated workers are leaving.”
That’s not valuing our elders or the people who care for them. We are failing to provide sufficient protection for the health, welfare and financial stability of either older people or those who work with them.
So, how do we change things? How can we show older people the respect and dignity they deserve?
Well, one way of doing that would be to value the people who care for them, and there’s a few ways of getting there…
Increase government funding to residential aged care providers; it’s just plain unfair that health care assistants and caregivers who work in aged care facilities get nowhere near as much as their colleagues who work in DHBs. The Government also needs to make sure that funding is passed on to workers, not retained as private sector profits.
A quality, nationwide training and education programme would achieve two things: consistently provided quality care for residents and a career pathway that would attract and retain great staff.
Regulate for safe staffing! Our members want to provide quality care, but at the same time as residents care needs increase, our members face continuous cuts to care hours. How can workers enjoy their work when they are stressed, overworkerd and worried about missing something and making a mistake? There must be enough staff to provide quality care for every resident.
None of this is rocket science, and none of it is news to the sector or the government. All that’s needed now is action! Action to value older New Zealanders and the people who care for them.
Our elders should be valued and celebrated. The workers who are carrying out the responsible and skilled work of caring for our elders should be valued, celebrated, admired and supported for their important work too.
Along with many NZNO and SFWU members, senior NZNO delegate and activist Grant Brookes attended the second Caring Counts summit in Wellington last week. Here are his thoughts about progress to date and possibilities for the future.
Slow progress and a determination to keep pressing ahead were the two themes which emerged at the Pre-Election Summit of the Caring Counts Coalition, held in Wellington last week.
The Coalition was formed to promote the recommendations for aged care in the Caring Counts report, published by the Human Rights Commission in 2012. The Coalition includes NZNO and the Service & Food Workers Union Ngā Ringa Tota (SFWU), along with government officials, community groups, aged care providers and their industry umbrella group, the Aged Care Association.
I was there to show the support of the NZNO National Delegates Committee for the DHB Sector.
The venue was St Andrew’s Church. Opening the Summit, SFWU aged care spokesperson Alastair Duncan said it was appropriate it was being held in a place associated with miracles. “The miracle is that the Coalition has continued”, he joked.
The Summit was held as Kristine Bartlett’s historic case for Pay Equity in aged care winds its way through the courts, supported by NZNO and SFWU but opposed by Terranova Homes and the Aged Care Association. This case has attracted much media attention, including feature stories on Campbell Live.
Of the ten recommendations in the Caring Counts report, Summit participants heard that progress has been made towards the goal that “all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years”.
The number of staff achieving Level 2 qualifications has doubled since 2012, from 6,000 to 12,000 people a year. The Careerforce Industry Training Organisation has a goal of 30,000 staff enrolled by the end of 2016.
But it was acknowledged this still wouldn’t be enough to maintain the proportion of qualified staff, assuming staff turnover of 20 percent each year. Actual turnover is probably higher.
Progress on other key recommendations around pay and safe staffing, however, is even slower.
No significant movement has been made towards “pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities”.
And there is no sign that the voluntary standards, including minimum staffing ratios, will “become compulsory to ensure the protection of both carers and older people”.
Kristine Bartlett captured the essence of the day when she said, “Every day we delay respect for the carers is a day less respect for the men and women in care.”
She also talked about her case, now before the Court of Appeal.
“Earlier this year the Service Workers and the Nurses Union made a video talking about the equal pay case and the need for other women to join the case”, she said.
“Five months later nearly 3000 women have filled out authorities to join. So if we made another video and got everyone together you wouldn’t see me. I’d be one of thousands, which is of course who I have been all along.”
Kristine also shared her own “scorecard”, about how aged care is progressing towards some other Caring Counts goals.
“Leadership. This is the one directed at the Prime Minister. Of all the recommendations, it was probably the easiest to enact and the one that could have sent the strongest message about government intentions.
“Putting the Minister with responsibilities for older persons into the top ten cabinet positions would have been politically smart and easy to do.
“Instead what did we see from the government? Having ensured the Ministry of Health was not in the Employment Court they then sought to intervene at the Court of Appeal – opposing the Employment Court decision.
“Not that I expect them to be listening to either my union or NZNO, but having been told by the Aged Care Association that the sector needed five or even six percent to stand still they funded a miserable one percent.
“Invited to attend the Careerforce conference earlier this year, the Government didn’t turn up and prevented Ministry of Health officials from attending.
“The only real leadership we’ve seen from this government in aged care has been in the wrong direction”.
Kristine concluded by reminding us of the upcoming general election.
After morning tea, participants broke into groups and came up with questions for the politicians who were joining the Summit after lunch.
Labour’s associate health spokesperson, Iain Lees-Galloway, said “the time for debating the merits of the recommendations is past. The time for implementing them is now.”
He said a Labour led government would provide enough funding to cover inflation and population growth, year on year.
Green health spokesperson Kevin Hague pledged to make DHBs pass on all the aged care funding increases to the sector.
“But the industry must also pass through the funding they receive”, he added. In 2006-7, employers took the DHBs to court to avoid paying government-funded wage increases. He said that even in the depth of the Global Financial Crisis, the government had enough money to fully fund health, but chose to spend it instead on tax cuts and Roads of National Significance.
NZ First health spokesperson Barbara Stewart said, “In 2012, the government said they would do something about aged care when they’re back in surplus. They’re in surplus now, and in the latest Budget we saw absolutely nothing for aged care.”
The National Party was also invited, but did not attend.
Summing up the day Dr Jackie Blue, EEO Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, commended the Caring Counts Coalition partners for their ongoing commitment to aged care.
An abridged version of this article is appearing in the August issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand
David Wait is NZNO’s industrial adviser for the aged care sector. This week he attended the Careerforce and Health Workforce New Zealand Workforce Development conference. Here are a few of his thoughts on the first day.
A highlight of the first day of the conference was a presentation by Dr Judy McGregor. Dr McGregor was the Human Rights Commissioner who investigated the aged care sector and wrote the report “Caring counts: Report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce”. The report set out a number of recommendations, particularly around mandatory staffing levels, pay and mandatory training.
Since the report was published a coalition of unions, employers and national leaders and decision-makers in the aged care sector has been formed to advance the recommendations. One summit has been held and another is planned for later this year.
Here’s what Dr McGregor had to say about progress on the recommendations.
Pay parity – not achieved.
The Caring Counts report recommended that the Minister of Health directs District Health Boards (DHBs) to develop a mechanism to achieve pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities. And that DHBs and residential care and home support providers implement pay parity for carers across the government-funded health sector within three years.
Pay parity has not been achieved, although Dr McGregor states that there is momentum with the equal pay case, being led by Kristine Bartlett. The case is complex and may go all the way to the Supreme Court. Regardless of what happens in the courts the issue is not that we cannot afford equal pay, but that we cannot afford discrimination.
(I enjoyed Dr McGregor’s idea to have Kristine Bartlett feature on our next new bank note!)
Training – partly achieved.
The report recommends providers in the aged care sector and the ITO (Careerforce) commit to ensuring all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years. Within five years, Level 3 should become the normal level of qualification for all staff with 18 months service or more.
At the first Caring Counts summit, Careerforce announced it would incentivise training with payments to providers, since then there has been increase to training of approximately 68% and the number of people completing training has also risen.
Consumer information – some progress to date.
The recommendation is that a five star system of quality assurance comparing residential facilities, with the aim of improving consumer choice and public accountability, is developed and adopted for use in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health and DHBs with input from the Auditor-General (A-G).
The “Indicators for safe aged and dementia care” was not discussed. The other recommendation was achieved. What we know is that staffing is often far from adequate, with care hour reviews frequently showing staffing levels lower than those set out by the standards document. We also know that these standards are out of date and that the acuity of residents has increased, requiring higher staffing levels than were needed in 2004.
The recommendation is that the Human Rights Commission hosts a stakeholder summit with government agencies, peak bodies, providers, Age Concern and Grey Power, trade unions and community groups to enhance sector cooperation and to promote and celebrate the paid aged care workforce.
We have a way to go yet. It is particularly important to get more money into the pay packets of carers.
The Caring counts report says,
“The reliance of New Zealand, of all of us, on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-14 an hour is a form of modern day slavery. It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.”
Dr McGregor reiterated how important it is for everybody involved in the aged care sector to work together to find a solution.
It is really good to hear that there has been progress made on the recommendations and that Dr McGregor is still a passionate advocate for the cause. We are equally pleased that Jackie Blue, who has taken on the role of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, is similarly committed to Caring Counts. We look forward to working with her on this issue.
Dr McGregor said she still receives heartfelt letters from families, thanking her for her work to improve conditions for workers in the aged care sector. And she told a story that really illustrates how important this work is for all New Zealanders.
There have only been three times that the phone lines have jammed at the Human Rights Commission during her time. The first was in response to something Hone Harawira said, the second time was in response to something Paul Henry said, and the third time was a massive outpouring of hope and support for the Caring counts report and the potential it has to achieve justice in an undervalued workforce.
That about sums it up for me! Together, we will reach our goal.