About 3,800 community mental health support workers missed out on the historic pay equity settlement that came into effect on July 1 last year giving pay rises of 15-50 per cent to 55,000 workers in Government-funded aged care, home support and disability sectors.

Health Minister Dr David Clark met yesterday with unions and employers to confirm the Government has agreed to negotiate an agreement to extend the Care and Support Pay Equity Settlement to mental health and addiction support workers.

The Council of Trade Unions, the Public Service Association (PSA) and E tū have welcomed the move. The PSA and E tū had lodged a pay equity claim with the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of the affected walkers in June last year concerned that the pay gap could cause a “crisis’ in the sector.

Unions said they expected the negotiations to “occur with urgency” and to extend the full terms of the care and support settlement to people working in mental health and addiction support.

Meanwhile last year’s $2 billion pay equity settlement has not been without controversy with the pay equity funding formula for the residential aged care sector in particular creating “winners” and “losers” with most of the “loser” providers being the small, privately owned providers. Home support providers have also raised concerns about being faced with a funding shortfall to implement pay equity.

Unions say many workers in mental health and addiction support had considered moving to other types of care and support work where pay rates have increased after the settlement.

“The care and support settlement showed what a difference equal pay can make to the lives of these workers – but it’s not equal if it’s not for everyone,” said E tū Assistant National Secretary John Ryall.

Dr Clark said in a statement that today’s announcement was “correcting a problem created by the previous Government, which failed to make the settlement broad enough to include mental health and addiction workers. We are doing the right thing by these workers.”

“Paying our mental health and addiction workers what they deserve will also help ensure we have a robust workforce to look after people needing their care.”

The Ministry of Health will now begin formal negotiations with unions and employers.

“It is in everyone’s interests to ensure these vital workers are paid fairly for the important work they do in our communities,” said Dr Clark. He thanked the support workers, unions and providers for their patience and said he looked “forward to a quick and satisfactory” conclusion to the negotiations.

In December last year the New Zealand Herald reported statistics provided pre-election by the State Services Commission to Labour on how much the Government could be liable to over this Parliamentary term to cover renegotiated collective agreements as well as equal pay settlements. In its response, the SSC’s high estimate for the total three-year liability was $1.1b, with its low estimate $538m. The agency stressed that figures provided were highly speculative.

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