In response to last week’s immigration policy changes, the residential aged care sector says the Government appears to be contradicting itself in terms of the value it is placing on caregivers.
New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) chief executive Simon Wallace says that while the Government has valued caregivers to the tune of $2 billion with a well-deserved increase in caregiver wages, it is not doing the same for the migrants who make up nearly a third of that workforce.
The recent tweaks to the new immigration policy saw the the remuneration band for mid-skilled workers lowered to annual salaries of between $41,538 and $73,299, instead of starting at $48,859 as initially proposed. Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse confirmed that any migrant earning within this band in an occupation classified as ANZSCO Level 1 – 3 will be considered mid-skilled and exempt from the controversial one-year stand-down periods, introduced as part of the new temporary migrant visa settings.
With increased caregiver wages now in place, most caregivers would earn more than $41,538. Yet, they still fail to be classified as mid-skilled because caregivers are classified as Level 4 under the ANZSCO skill level classification system. Subsequently migrant care workers are still subject to the stand-down periods. This means that after three years they have to return to their home country for one year before being allowed to apply for a new visa.
Victoria Brown of Care Association New Zealand (CANZ) says migrant workers provide an invaluable part of the care staff that operators rely on.
“It is probably accurate to say that every aged care facility has a new immigrant on staff – in fact more than one. Given the changes there is no doubt that this will impact on the ability of homes to recruit staff. And this could have a retrograde effect on the sector,” says Brown.
Both CANZ and NZACA believes these temporary migration settings ignore the realities for aged care providers.
Wallace says the sector needs a system that allows rest homes to recruit and retain migrant caregivers while at the same time ensuring certainty of supply. Minister Woodhouse’s announcement does not do that and will see trained and committed caregivers having to leave New Zealand after three years as well as going through an annual renewal process, he says.
Despite the recent uplift in caregiver wages from the Pay Equity settlement, there remains a shortage of caregivers, which is only expected to worsen in the face of a rapidly ageing population.
“Our 600 members across the aged residential care (ARC) sector explore all possible options to employ New Zealanders but there just isn’t the pool of Kiwi talent available to do the work,” says Wallace.
He gives the example of a recent job expo run by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), where one aged care provider received a total of 249 queries followed by 138 expressions of interest, but resulted in just one suitable New Zealander being employed.
Other providers tell the same story.
Shona Rishworth manager of Ascot House Retirement Home in Devonport says recruiting Kiwis for caregiver positions is difficult.
“You’re dreaming if you think you can get a New Zealander to do the job. We typically advertise on TradeMe. Of 60 applicants, two will be Kiwi and they won’t even show up for the interview.”
Human Resources manager at St Andrews Village in Glen Innes, Lee Keegan says New Zealanders typically do not bring the same level of attitude, knowledge or experience as migrant workers.
With the increased wages, it is likely more New Zealanders will be attracted to aged care work. However, Keegan says care workers need to be equipped for the realities of providing a high level of care for residents who often are very frail with multiple morbidities.
Keegan is among those pushing for a review of the ANZSCO skill level classification system. She and other members of the NZACA are pleased that the ANZSCO system will be reviewed in Phase Two of the temporary migration settings. The NZACA says this can’t come soon enough for the sector. The Ministry has indicated Phase Two will be completed by the end of the year.