By: Nicholas Jones

The Government will enter pay equity negotiations with mental health and addiction support workers. Photo / Dean Purcell

Health Minister David Clark says unions “have got ahead of themselves” in announcing pay equity negotiations between mental health workers and the Government.

Today, the Public Service Association (PSA) and E tu unions issued press releases that praised Clark for committing to enter negotiations in January next year, and said a proposed settlement would cover 3800 workers. The CTU also issued a press release welcoming the development.

No announcement was made by Clark’s office, and in a statement to the Herald he said the unions had jumped the gun.

“The unions appear to have got ahead of themselves with their statement. No announcement has been made of a start to formal negotiations and before that can happen there will need to be a Cabinet process,” Clark said.

“That said, the Government is committed to pay equity and finding a fair solution for mental health workers.”

However, the PSA insist Clark’s office was aware of the intention to announce negotiations today. The union has released a letter from Clark confirming the Government intended to resolve the claim outside of Court.

New pay rates took effect on July 1 for 55,000 workers in Government-funded aged care, home support and disability sectors because of the Kristine Bartlett historic pay equity settlement.

However, community mental health support workers aren’t included.

That spurred the PSA and E tu unions to lodge a pay equity claim on behalf of mental health support workers with the Employment Relations Authority. The claim covered people employed by community mental health providers, not direct district health board employees.

Today, the PSA and E tu unions said Clark had committed to entering negotiations in January next year.

Melissa Woolley, PSA national organiser for community public services, said the union was thrilled Labour would honour its election commitment to extend the Bartlett settlement to mental health workers.

“There have been increasingly worrying signs that many of these workers were considering a move into general care and support work due to the discrepancy in pay, and today’s announcement will be a boost to them all.”

The settlement for aged care, home support and disability sector workers came after the Service Workers’ Union (now E tu) took a court case on behalf of rest home worker Kristine Bartlett.

It lifted her own pay from about $15.75 an hour to $23.50. By the end of five years, that will have increased to $27 an hour, a total increase of 71 per cent.

Similar claims for workers in female-dominated industries are likely to be lodged, and during post-election negotiations Labour asked the State Services Commission how much the Government could be liable for 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.

The State Services Commission on Friday released the information it provided to the parties during the negotiations that took place over a fortnight after the final election results were known.

NZ First eventually opted to go into coalition with Labour with the Green Party as a confidence and supply support partner. Parties involved in such negotiations over policies can seek information from officials to help the process.

Source: NZ Herald

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