A pay equity settlement for hospital nurses is a step closer as unions and DHBs prepare to interview nurses to gather evidence that nursing skills are undervalued because of gender bias.

The nurses’ pay equity claim was first lodged on behalf of its DHB members by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation in June 2017 arguing that nursing was undervalued because it was predominantly carried out by women and involved skills traditionally associated with women.

But work on the claim was stalled by the prolonged pay dispute between the DHBs and NZNO members leading to historic strike action in July last year by nurses frustrated with ongoing unsafe workloads and low pay.

Nurses eventually ratified a pay deal in August 2018 of which a major component was DHBs agreeing to move swiftly on the nurses’ pay equity claim with a settlement date of December 31 this year.

Glenda Alexander, NZNO’s associate industrial services manager, says after a difficult year last year for the bargaining parties it had taken some time “to align the stars” to get the right people together to start progressing the pay equity claim.

Work behind the scenes got underway in February with NZNO working with the DHBs’ service agency TAS and the two other unions involved; the Public Service Association (the PSA represents about 3000 DHB mental health and public health nurses and assistants) plus MERAS (which now represents the vast majority of DHB hospital midwives).

“We’ve deliberately separated out the assessment and settlement part for midwives, as it is a single discipline, rather than the multi-layers we have in nursing.  So essentially we are working on two pay equity claims,” said Alexander.

The largest involves pay equity claims for DHB senior nurses, registered nurses, public health nurses, nurse practitioners, enrolled nurses, karitane nurses, obstetric nurses and health care assistants (including psychiatric assistants).  The second, lead by MERAS, is the pay equity claim for the 1400 plus DHB employed midwives which NZNO is also party to. MERAS says that claim will lead to a separate pay scale for hospital registered midwives.

Alexander says it aims to have the first of the claim processes’ three stages – the setting-up stage which includes settling the terms of reference (now completed), identifying which DHBs will host the job assessment interviews and training the interviewers – completed by mid-April.

The second stage is expected to be the longest and Alexander hopes this will be completed by late September/early October. It starts with carrying out detailed, structured interviews of people in a range of nursing roles and environments to get a gender neutral evaluation of what skills, responsibilities, conditions and demands (including emotional and sensory) the jobs entail. (See more about pay equity process and gender neutral factors below.)

Ashok Shankar, the PSA’s DHB national organiser, said it would be interesting to see what impact that environments – for instance working as an independent mental health or public health nurse in the community or in a team environment on a ward – had on the job evaluation results.

Once the interview information is gathered than male-dominated comparator occupations are chosen – these are yet to be selected or the workplaces – and a range of people doing those roles will be interviewed using the same gender neutral questionnaire.

The information is then to be analysed by DHB and union researchers to decide to what degree nursing work is or isn’t undervalued compared to historically male-dominated comparator occupations. The third stage, likely to occur between early November and late December, will involve the DHBs and unions agreeing on how much nurses and health care assistants have been underpaid and then deciding on the pay levels and changes required to bridge the gap.

Last year’s NZNO/DHB MECA negotiations agreed that the pay equity settlement was to be implemented from December 31 this year for nurses, health care assistants and midwives. This date is the same for PSA nurses and MERAS midwives.

Shankar says whether or not a deal is finalised by New Year’s Eve any settlement would still have to be backdated to that date. “That’s the good part about the nursing claim – that the dates are locked in.”

At this early stage Alexander or Shankar are unwilling to speculate what form a settlement might take and whether, like the $2 billion care and support workers settlement, it may be a staged settlement over a period of time.

Any claim settlement also needs to get funding but Alexander says the nature of the bipartite process meant the Government was to “all intents and purposes” party to the negotiations and had stated its committment to pay equity.  She noted that next year was also an election year.

“I think this is the best shot we have ever had at getting the real worth of the work finally established. I hope that that has absolutely been taken into account by those who hold the purse strings.”

Alexander said their instinct was that nursing has been undervalued for a longtime and the evidence-based claim process would prove this.

Alexander is a veteran campaigner for fair pay having led the negotiations in the early 2000s that led to the successful fair pay jolt being settled in 2005.  In 2005-06 she was working with the Labour Government’s pay equity unit which first started to develop a gender neutral job evaluation tool to replace the existing job evaluation process that focused on traditional men’s work.  That unit was disbanded following the change of government which Alexander said had resulted in a loss of traction for pay equity work for a number of years. But the lodging of the Terra Nova case for aged care worker Kristin Bartlett (**see other story**) in 2012 had helped kickstart it again with in all four DHB health worker groups now pursuing pay equity.

NZNO has said it considers the DHB nurses’ pay equity claim as a first step towards achieving pay equity also for nurses working outside the DHB sector.

STAGES OF PAY EQUITY PROCESS

  1. Setting up the process:
  • Agreeing that claim meets pay equity principle i.e. work predominantly performed by women, work currently or historically undervalued and/or there has been gender-based systemic undervaluation affecting pay. (DONE)
  • Setting scope and terms of reference for claim. (DONE)
  • Identifying DHBs for job assessment interviews and training interviewers
  1. Assessing the claim:
  • Interview health workers from the claimant groups using special job. evaluation questionnaire designed to be gender neutral and reveal hidden or undervalued skills and knowledge – see factors explored below.
  • Analyse results and agree on comparator workplaces and jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields.
  • Interview workers in comparator occupations using the same gender neutral questionnaire.
  • Compare the job evaluation results between the claimants and the comparators.
  1. Settling the Claim:
  • Analyse the undervaluation research plus the job evaluation and pay comparisons between the claimants’ and the comparators’ occupations.
  • Negotiate and conclude pay equity claim.

Gender neutral job evaluation factors

Skill factors

Knowledge and understanding

Problem-solving

Interpersonal skills

Physical skills

Responsibilities factors

People leadership

Information resources

Organisational outcomes

Services to people

Demands Factors

Emotional demands

Sensory demands

Physical demands

Working conditions

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