From 1 July, care and support workers in aged care, disability care and home support will receive a pay increase as a result of the Equal Pay settlement. However, mental health support workers aren’t included in the settlement, prompting unions PSA and E tū  to lodge on their behalf an equal pay claim with the Employment Relations Authority.

E tū member and claimant, Vicki Harmon says from 1 July, mental health support workers will be working alongside people who will be paid more and it’s causing turmoil.

“People are leaving mental health services in droves and who wouldn’t?” she says, “We’ve had so many people leave our organisation for other disability providers and we’re exhausted doing the extra work. It’s a struggle to fill the rosters and everyone is knackered.

“The other thing is it’s not good for our service users – we’ve got people getting unwell due to the lack of consistency,” she says.

PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk says mental health support workers are already having to do more with less, and many are feeling underappreciated and underpaid for the complex and sensitive work they do.

“We’re calling on Government to fund a settlement that shows they truly value the workers who support our most vulnerable New Zealanders,” says Ms Polaczuk.

E tū Assistant National Secretary, John Ryall says the government needs to support the claim and move swiftly to avert the impending crisis.

“We are seeking urgency from the Authority in hearing this claim because the 1 July pay increases for other support workers will cause a crisis for the community mental health workforce,” says John.

New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) chief executive Simon Wallace says the NZACA advocated for mental health care and support workers to be included right from the outset, but they were ruled out of scope by the Government. He says they are working to support affected members and staff at a local DHB level.

At the time the settlement was announced, the Government acknowledged the possibility of other workforce groups coming forward with equal pay claims. However, it is unclear how future claims will be funded, given the details of the current settlement has caused some concern that caregivers’ wage increases are not fully funded for some providers.

Other groups expected to raise wage-related concerns are nurses, cooks and cleaners within the aged care setting. People in these roles work alongside caregivers receiving the wage increase, but like mental health support workers, are not part of the settlement. Some providers say this is causing tension in the workplace.

“The big problem will be maintaining the pay differences between well qualified caregivers and Registered Nurses (RNs). We could have a situation where, unless we grant RNs a similar pay increase, there will be massive discontent. There are also cooks and cleaners to appease,” commented one provider in a recent survey.

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