Without a doubt, the Pay Equity settlement has been the most significant event for our members this year and arguably for many years. The settlement has delivered a well-deserved increase in the wages for care and support workers and one that our industry believes is thoroughly deserved.
On the flipside, however, the complexity of the settlement’s speedy implementation has been detrimental for a number of our members. A few rest homes have closed, a few more are considering closure, and others have been forced to make cuts to staff and rosters. This was not the scenario any of us wanted and a situation not of our making.
The financial burden on our members has been compounded by the qualification equivalency process. The international RN re-categorisation alone has cost the sector more than 10% in wages and the continuing process is putting incremental costs on to rest homes, pushing more into deficit.
The transitional funding support, that the NZACA advocated for so intensively, was agreed just a few weeks ago with the support of the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the DHBs. This will help alleviate the situation for many of our members this year, but medium and longer term solutions are needed and we will be working on those in early 2018.
Immigration will continue to be a major issue for the sector following an election year in which it emerged as a political football. Current policy settings threaten our migrant workers that are such a valued part of our sector’s workforce. We need polices that enable our members to recruit and retain these valuable migrant workers.
It is encouraging to see the new Minister of Immigration has acknowledged the concerns of our industry and we will be holding him to his word as we continue our strong immigration lobby. Our members do everything they can to find Kiwis to do the job, but despite the uplift in caregiver wages finding the right Kiwis to work in our industry remains a challenge. Sending people home after three years is simply stupid when we have a labour shortage and it will only compromise the quality of care.
The outgoing government made a commitment to review the ARRC contract, a commitment that has been renewed by the new administration. While this presents an important opportunity to look at how our sector is funded, it is more than just a funding review. It gives us an opportunity to shape a new and better way forward. You will hear more about this work from the NZACA in early 2018 but I strongly encourage the sector to participate in what will be a consultative process. Every voice counts.
Notwithstanding the ARC contract review, there are some complex and complicated issues on the table at the forthcoming negotiation in 2018 as we grapple with the second year of Pay Equity and a range of other key areas raised by our members, including primary care costs, compliance creep, interRAI and technology.
At a political level, we will be holding the new government to account on the promises they have made in the campaign as well as the recommendations set by Labour and the Greens in their Aged Care Inquiry, on which they consulted closely with the NZACA.
Indeed, after a year of massive change, advocacy and negotiation, the NZACA now has the ear of the politicians on all sides. In large part, this is due to the unprecedented media attention we have had as the voice of the sector – no less than 50 radio interviews, several TV appearances and countless newspaper editorials and articles.
So, despite all that has happened in 2017, the NZACA is strong and a recognised voice for the sector, demonstrating to New Zealanders that our members, large and small, are playing a critical role in society providing the level of care all our older people deserve.