Caring Counts report says sorting caregivers’ wages affordable and necessary

“Affordability cannot be used an excuse to delay sorting pay inequalities for aged care workers who are being discriminated against,” says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

“There are legal obligations relating to pay equality and for far too long we have exploited the emotional goodwill of thousands of workers, predominantly women. Inaction means we’re condoning a fundamental breach of human rights.”

“New Zealand cannot afford to ignore this clear injustice for a large group of low paid but much needed workers, given the demographic tide of older people and the shortfall of people required to look after them.” Dr McGregor said.

The Commission releases Caring Counts Tautiaki tika the report of the Inquiry into equal employment issues in the aged care workforce today. The main finding of the inquiry concerns the inequity in pay rates that sees care workers in the community, funded by District Health Boards through providers, often paid $3 to $5 an hour less than the caring staff directly employed by the DHB.

The Commission’s financial modelling shows that fixing the problem would cost approximately $140 million a year. The Commission’s inquiry recommends a stepped approach to implement fairness on pay rates over three years. The total sum amounts to about 1 per cent of the total health budget.

Dr McGregor said the costs of pay parity would be offset by savings in recruitment costs given the current high turnover of carers and a reduction in hospital admissions through improved care of older people in the community. Some participants in the Commission’s national inquiry said that higher labour costs could also be offset against slowing the capital expenditure of DHBs.

“This not about whether we can afford to fix the problem given the economic climate; it is about whether fixing this injustice is a priority for New Zealand as a society. The nearly 900 people we spoke with for the inquiry throughout New Zealand overwhelmingly want this sorted”.

The Caring Counts inquiry recommends:

1. Leadership:

  • The Prime Minister ensures that the minister with responsibility for older people has a top ten Cabinet ranking to deliver better services, and to provide leadership and co-ordination across ministerial portfolios.

2.    Pay:

  • The Minister of Health directs District Health Boards (DHBs) to develop a mechanism to achieve pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities.
  • DHBs and residential care and home support providers implement pay parity for carers across the government-funded health sector within three years.

3.    Fair Travel:

  • The Ministry of Health and DHBs develop a sustainable and consistent fair travel policy which is annually reviewed and adjusted, and which covers the real and actual costs of travelling including vehicle costs and time spent travelling.

4.    Qualifications:

  • Providers in the aged care sector and the industry training organisation, Careerforce commit to ensuring all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years. Within five years, Level 3 should become the normal level of qualification for all staff with 18 months service or more.

5.    Safety Standards:

  • The voluntary standard “Indicators for safe aged-care and dementia-care for consumers” should become compulsory to ensure the protection of both carers and older people. The “Home and Community Support Sector” standard must also be compulsory.

6. Consumer information:

  • A five star system of quality assurance comparing residential facilities, with the aim of improving consumer choice and public accountability, is developed and adopted for use in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health and DHBs with input from the Auditor-General (A-G).

7.    Transparency:

  • District Health Boards provide disclosure in their annual reports that makes explicit expectations about ‘passing through’ annual funding increases and details the fair travel and equal pay provisions in aged care service delivery contracts.

8.    Migrant workers:

  • Immigration New Zealand ensures information about qualifications and registration requirements is available in countries of origin and develops best practice guidance for migrant workers in aged care.

9.    Diversity of carers:

  • Health Workforce New Zealand provides leadership on the recruitment of men as paid carers, the promotion of ‘encore careers’ in aged care, and the development of strategies that encourage part-time paid carers to increase their hours of work.

10. Valuing carers:

  • The Human Rights Commission hosts a stakeholder summit with government agencies, peak bodies, providers, Age Concern and Grey Power, trade unions and community groups to enhance sector cooperation and to promote and celebrate the paid aged care workforce.

Caring counts Report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce (Word 3Mb or PDF)

Full report and links.

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