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Dr Katherine Ravenswood, research leader at AUT’s New Zealand Work Research Institute, which carried out the 2016 New Zealand Aged Care Workforce Survey, said nurses and managers reported more job security than health care assistants in the latest survey but many also reported working long hours and feeling stressed. Stress or burnout were the main reasons nurses and managers (70 per cent of which were registered nurses) gave for considering leaving their job in the next 12 months.

“We surveyed people in 2016, just after the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into force. It’s concerning that stress and fatigue, which are now clearly identified as hazards under the Act, are such key issues for this workforce. It’s become a legal issue, not just one of personal health and wellbeing,” says Dr Ravenswood.

More than 1345 workers in the residential aged care and home and community care sectors responded to the survey. The majority were health care assistants (919) but more than 400 nurses responded (362 registered nurses and 64 enrolled nurses) with the vast majority working in residential aged care. There were also 187 aged care manager respondents (70 per cent were registered nurses).

The survey was undertaken from May to July 2016 while the recently announced equal pay settlement – that will result in sizable pay increases for health care assistants and caregivers in the sector – was still under negotiation. Wages were a key issue for health care assistants/caregivers with 85 per cent of them being dissatisfied with their pay which they said did not fairly reflect their skills, responsibilities or experience

Nearly 70 per cent of nurse respondents also believed their pay did not fairly reflect their skills or responsibility. The hourly pay rates for nurses mainly fell between $25 to $34.99 per hour with the largest group (29%) earning between $27 to $29 per hour.  (The equal pay deal will see experienced health care assistant wages in the sector rise to $23 by 2021 and can rise to $27 if they attain a qualification.

When asked how satisfied they were with their job overall 56 per cent said they were satisified with the nature of the work providing the most satisfaction and the pay the least. About half of nurse respondents indicated they planned to look for a new job within the next 12 months and of those the most common reason was stress/burnout (20%) and employment conditions (18.4%).

The nurses also reported high stress levels with two-thirds of respondents indicating they felt the job “was more stressful than they ever imagined it would be”.

They also reported 372 incidences of work-related injury and illness in the previous 12 months with 100 of those being stress-related and the next most common being bruising (74) followed by back injuries (39). About a third reported they had experienced physical abuse at sometime during their work and 18.2 per cent often or very often but the most common was verbal abuse which 76 per cent of nurses had experienced from clients/patients.

The vast majority of nurses indicated they felt safe at work (78.8%). Nearly three quarters indicated they were happy with the tools and equipment required to do their job safely and two-thirds were satisfied they were told everything they needed to know to do their job safely

When it came to managers 60 per cent were satisfied with their pay (the majority earned between $30 and $44 per hour) and the majority felt they received respect and recognition for their work. The highest level of dissatisfaction with their work was the hours and a third did plan to look for a new job within 12 months with the most common reason being stress/burnout (31%).

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