An estimated 5,000 mental health and addiction support workers will soon receive the same pay rates as care and support workers. The Government has reached agreement with unions and employers to extend the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act to include mental health and addiction support workers.

Mental health and addiction support workers were excluded from the initial pay equity settlement legislation which increased the pay rates of 55,000 care and support workers in aged and disability residential care, and home and community support services.

A claim was lodged with the Employment Relations Authority by the Public Service Association and E tū, seeking that mental health and addiction support workers be paid the same increased wage rates. The Government agreed to negotiate an agreement to extend the Act.

Health Minister Dr David Clark announced last week that an agreement had been reached.

“This agreement puts right a problem created by the previous Government, which deliberately excluded mental health and addiction workers from the Care and Support Workers settlement. These workers often support New Zealanders when they are most vulnerable and they deserve a fair go,” says Dr Clark.

Nearly half of the workers affected will get an increase of more than $3 per hour which means full-time workers will be paid approximately an extra $120 a week before tax. A further 20 percent of workers will get an increase of more than $5 per hour or around an extra $200 for a 40-hour week.

The new pay scale reflects workers’ qualifications and experience. It will be backdated to 1 July 2017, when the pay equity legislation came into force.

The $173.5 million settlement extension will be implemented over a five-year term and funded through an increase to Vote Health.

E tū welcomes the news, noting that it builds on the life changing work done by E tū and Kristine Bartlett in the battle for aged care workers.

E tū industry co-ordinator Alastair Duncan says the result is the right one but that the sector still requires greater funding and support.

“This is a good first step but, just like nurses, staff working in mental health need safe and fair workloads. Having quality time to spend with consumers remains a huge challenge.”

Concerns over funding are shared by employers, as noted earlier by New Zealand Aged Care Association.

“While it is critical that mental health workers receive the pay they deserve, so too is it important that lessons are learnt from the previous agreement and that our members who are providing these services are properly funded to cover the increases,” says chief executive Simon Wallace.

INsite sought clarification from the Ministry of Health on how the settlement extension will be funded. A Ministry spokesperson says providers will initially be funded on an ‘actuals’ basis, like the home and community support services sector and not an ‘averaging’ basis like the residential aged care sector.

“The Ministry will be funding providers based on the workforce information that each provider submitted.”

The Ministry collected workforce information from mental health and addiction support service providers for the period 1 July 2017–31 March 2018.

The first payment will be made to providers by the end of July 2018 so that they can pass on the new minimum rates to their employees. It will be made up of two components:
1.        Retrospective funding for the period 1 July 2017–30 June 2018, including a one-off contribution towards annual leave liability.
2.        Forward funding for the period 1 July 2018–30 September 2018.

“The Ministry is currently working with provider representatives from the mental health sector to decide how funding will be made after 30 September 2017.”

More information can be found on the settlement operational policy document on the Ministry’s website.

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