Rest home caregivers and community support workers could be in for a substantial wage increase as a source close to the ongoing equal pay negotiations between government, unions and the aged care and community support sectors reveals the parties are nearing settlement.

A document leaked to INsite shows a scenario in which a caregiver or support worker with three years’ service could be paid $23.50 an hour – a 55 per cent increase from the median hourly rate of $15.14 currently paid to New Zealand aged care workers.

The changes would bring aged care workers’ pay just under that of Registered Nurses working in aged care. According to website Pay Scale the median hourly rate for an aged care nurse in New Zealand is currently $25.81. Registered Nurses typically must achieve a three-year tertiary qualification and satisfy ongoing professional development requirements.

The document shows a sliding scale of pay rates linked to qualifications and years of service. Caregivers with less than one year of service and no qualifications could be paid $20.50 an hour; those with one year of service or a Level 2 qualification could be paid $21.50; those with two years of service or a Level 3 qualification could be paid $22.50; and three years’ service or Level 4, $23.50. The scale shows these rates increasing with each passing year.

The unions are expecting a formal Government offer on 7thNovember. Union E Tu spokesperson Alastair Duncan says that while the unions will consider any offer put forward by Government, if the proposed rates are less than the $26 an hour the unions have been pushing for, it will be especially important that other employment issues are addressed, such as holiday, weekend and overtime pay and callback provisions. The timing of the implementation of any new pay rates is also a key consideration.

Duncan says the unions are also concerned that discussions are not taking into account other areas of the aged care and community support workforce.

“While this might see a resolution for caregivers and support workers, what about other staff? What about the RNs, the cleaners, the cooks and the admin staff?” he asks.

The unions are, in part, motivated by the attention the equal pay negotiations are receiving internationally. Union movements from countries including the United States and Australia have shown support for the New Zealand unions in their efforts to honour the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

Meanwhile New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace has described union expectations as “unrealistic”. He says a caregiver rate of $26 an hour would cost an estimated $500 million each year, or almost one third of total funding to the aged care sector.

“Clearly this is unlikely to be met by Government, so is not sustainable. And it would massively impact how caregiver rates compare to registered and enrolled nurses,” said Wallace.

Most aged care and community support providers are supportive of better pay for caregivers but maintain that any wage increase must be matched with an increase in government funding.

If a settlement can’t be reached through the negotiations, the Equal Pay case will be decided through the court process.

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