The announcement that the Government intends to extend the pay equity settlement to mental health workers has been broadly welcomed. However, those employers already struggling to afford the increased wages resulting from the care and support worker pay equity settlement due to lack of adequate funding are anxious that another settlement may not be properly funded either.
Mental health workers are set to receive a pay rise after the Government confirmed that the pay equity settlement will be extended to include an estimated 3,800 mental health and addiction support workers.
Minister of Health Dr David Clark met with unions and employers this week 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.
Clark criticised the previous Government for failing to make the settlement broad enough and said they were correcting this problem.
We are doing the right thing by these workers,” says Clark. “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 Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act came in to force on 1 July 2017 giving 55,000 care and support workers in aged and disability residential care, and home and community support services a pay rise of between 15 and 50 per cent.
A claim was lodged with the Employment Relations Authority by unions PSA and E tū, seeking that mental health and addiction support workers be paid the same increased wage rates.
The Ministry of Health will now begin formal negotiations with unions and employers.
However, while the care and support worker pay equity settlement was supposed to be fully funded by the Government, many employers in the aged care and community support sectors say the funding has not been sufficient, leaving them struggling to afford the increased wages. Many businesses are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the settlement and have had to seek help from their district health board.
The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) says it is important that mistakes made in the previous settlement are not repeated.
“While it is critical that mental health workers receive the pay they deserve, so too is it important that lessons are learnt from the previous agreement and that our members who are providing these services are properly funded to cover the increases,” says chief executive Simon Wallace.
The NZACA argued for the inclusion of mental health workers during the initial pay equity talks, but like nurses, they were ruled out of scope.
The unions have reported that 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.
Today, they are “delighted” by the Government’s commitment to them, says PSA Assistant National Secretary Kerry Davies.
“This proves to them that the work they do is valued – and so are the vulnerable people who they support every day.”
E tū Assistant National Secretary John Ryall says is hopeful that all parties can work together to get the settlement in place.
“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.”
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson has welcomed the announcement.
“Paying mental health and addiction support workers a higher wage will go some way to creating a more stable mental health workforce in hospital and community settings, helping to ensure people receive the support and care they need to recover.”