Delegates at this week’s Careerforce Workforce Development Conference in Wellington burst into applause when Careerforce chief executive Ray Lind acknowledged the increase in caregiver wages as a result of the pay equity settlement agreement.

There appeared to be cross-party consensus over the pay equity settlement agreement, with a political panel comprising Labour’s Jenny Salesa, NZ First’s Tracey Martin and Green Party’s Jan Logie all in praise of the Government’s decision.

Associate Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills & Employment Louise Upston indicated her support for the decision as well and said that sector funding was a priority for the Government.

“Ensuring that your sector is well resourced is critical, not just for now but for the next five, ten, twenty years,” she said.

However, with many rest homes and community support providers already struggling to afford the increased wage costs in the wake of the settlement, it is evident the sector is not yet adequately resourced.

A delegate’s question around the funding and the sustainability of the community care sector went largely unanswered by the political panel.

Logie referred to the many options the Government had for raising money – chief among these were introducing new taxes such as a capital gains tax, and reducing spending on things like defence.

Martin said it was firstly important to establish that funding went into wages and not into profit margins, and secondly, to work out how much is required to adequately fund it.

“Once we know the price tag, how are we going to prioritise what we’re going to do?” said Martin.

The panel indicated they would not be supporting the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill which is due to have its first reading. The Bill will repeal and replace the Equal Pay Act 1972 and the Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960, and amend the Employment Relations Act 2000.

The Bill is supposed to provide a practical and fair process for employees to follow if they feel they are not being paid what their job is worth. It will allow employees to file pay equity claims directly with their employers rather than having to go through the courts.

However, the Bill has been criticised for including unnecessary hurdles for those seeking equal pay. For example, women fighting for fair pay in education would be forced to find a comparable, male-dominated job within the education sector.

Teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart described this as “a logical nonsense” as most of the people in education are women.

“These additional hoops will make an already lengthy process to draw out even further, and will actively put women off making pay equity claims.”

“We urge all MPS to reject these unfair stumbling blocks to justice. Women have waited long enough for fair pay. Let’s just make it happen,” Mrs Stuart said.

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