The Government’s announcement that it will enter equal pay negotiations for community mental health and addiction support workers has been welcomed by workers, but is a “mixed blessing” for employers who fear any agreement won’t be sufficiently funded.
Public Service Association national organiser for community public services Melissa Woolley says the union is thrilled the Government has followed through on its election commitment to extend the pay equity care and support 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,” says Woolley.
The PSA and E tū unions lodged an equal pay claim with the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of mental health and addiction support workers in June 2017, following their exclusion from the equal pay settlement for other care and support workers.
Formal negotiations on the settlement between the Ministry of Health, unions, DHBs and providers will begin in January 2018. The proposed settlement – modelled on the care and support (pay equity) settlement – would affect around 3,800 mental health and addiction support workers.
E tū Assistant National Secretary John Ryall says their members are heartened.
“They saw how it was unfair to be paid less – often to work with the same clients who have both mental health and disability needs – and this is a real win for them.”
Home and Community Health Association chief executive Julie Haggie says it is great news for mental health and addiction support workers, however it will be a “mixed blessing” for employers, as it has been in home support following the care and support pay equity settlement.
“The risk of insufficient funding when there is a major wage increase is huge for community health organisations that run on slim margins.
“The second issue for them will be to get the mix right between qualifications, equivalency and tenure. Skilled staff are essential in mental health and addiction services.”
Haggie says since the pay equity settlement came into place for home support she has heard employers say that they are attracting staff from these areas.
“Another challenge will be making sure that the ongoing funding is devolved to the District Health Boards and they have a requirement to meet the increasing costs over time.”