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Looking towards a new pay equity future: the pay equity settlement for care and support workers, which came into effect this month, marks the beginning of a new era, which will eventually see the gender pay gap eliminated.

NZNO VALUES the skilled, compassionate work of its members. These attributes should be valued by employers with appropriate pay and conditions. For many years, NZNO has been championing "fair pay" for nurses and care workers.

The 2004 fair pay settlement for district health board (DHB) members resulted in significant pay increases--up to 20 per cent in some cases. NZNO's strategy of leveraging off that settlement to achieve pay parity in the private sector has led to pay increases for members in private hospitals and hospices and in parts of the primary health care (PHC) and aged-care sectors over the last decade.

However, some NZNO members' pay still falls well short of the fair pay settlement because of little or no effective collective bargaining and the inability of employers to pay. We have continued to campaign to address this injustice.

Up until Kristine Bartlett's pay equity case, it was thought the Equal Pay Act 1972 had no jurisdiction over pay equity issues. In pay equity cases taken under the act in the 1980s, court decisions found the legislation could only deal with equal pay issues, ie where men and women performed the same job. As a consequence, New Zealand's gender pay gap--women's earnings as a whole compared to men's--has remained between 12 and 14 per cent.

But the Bartlett case has resulted in a seismic shift. The Employment Court determined the act could deal with issues of pay equity, ie pay for work done by women that was different to that of men, but worthy of the same pay. This decision prompted three actions by the Government: the establishment of a process to reach a pay equity settlement for the country's 55,000 care and support workers; the establishment of a tripartite working party to establish principles for new legislation relating to equal pay and pay equity; and another work group in the state sector to look at other employment issues affecting pay equity, eg parental leave and career progression. NZNO has been involved in all three.

All this work lays the foundations for eliminating the gender pay gap. It will most likely take the next decade to be fully realised.

Last month the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act was passed by Parliament. This gives effect to the significant pay increases for 55,000 care and support workers.

Two weeks earlier, NZNO made submissions on the draft Employment (Equal Pay and Pay Equity) Bill, which will give legal force to the principles of the equal pay/pay equity working party.

Where to now?

As an organisation whose members are mostly employed in historically female-dominated occupations, NZNO is committed to achieving pay equity for all members as swiftly as possible. But the changed legal landscape means this is new ground for us. NZNO is identifying its next steps, as more certainty evolves in the pay equity arena.

There must be an effective Equal Pay and Pay Equity Act that will support NZNO's goals. This is critical for private sector members. With a general election looming, this new legislation is likely to be introduced to Parliament before the election but not passed into law. The shape of the law is crucial for future pay equity claims. Alongside the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and other unions, NZNO is campaigning on a number of key issues in the draft legislation, including who the parties can select as the pay comparator. A national week of action to support the best equal pay/pay equity legislation is being held next month.

The equal pay/pay equity principles tripartite working party finished its work late last year. An agreement was subsequently reached between the State Services Commission and the CTU that public sector unions' pay equity claims could be progressed through collective bargaining, using the principles agreed by the working party. The timing coincided with the NZN0/DHB multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) negotiations, which started last month. DHB members have endorsed an equal pay claim. Negotiating the pay equity rate in the sector where NZNO has the greatest numbers, influence and ability to organise collectively is important.

Achieving pay equity in the DHB sector is likely to have greater impact in the private sector than the 2004 Fair Pay settlement, particularly when the new Employment (Equal Pay/Pay Equity) Act is passed. It is highly likely NZNO will be able to take legal cases on behalf of groups of private sector members, if employers don't implement the agreed DHB pay equity rate, once this is struck. In the interim, we will continue to advocate in negotiations for pay increases and pay parity with DHB members. What will this mean for each sector?

* Private hospitals and hospices: The most immediate issue raised by the pay equity settlement is the implications for health care assistants (HCAs) and equivalent workers. We have significant numbers of perioperative assistants, hospital aides and HCAs in the sector who perform duties similar to HCAs in aged care. This clearly raises pay equity issues for those performing such roles in the private sector.

Hospice employers have already been in touch, suggesting HCAs working in community settings, eg patients' homes, should also be covered by the settlement. Others have requested details of the settlement so they can begin addressing potential retention issues. Hospice HCA members are contacting us and will doubtless do so in greater numbers via the questionnaires sent to delegates in preparation for the hospice MECA negotiations, which start next month.

NZNO knows of two cases of HCAs working for rural trust hospitals and at neighbouring aged-care facilities owned and operated by the same employer. In both cases, members and employers have initiated discussions with NZNO about pay equity.

Negotiations during the rest of this year offer opportunities to address these issues. Hospice MECA negotiations start in August and there are six private hospital and four rural trust hospital collective agreements (CAs) still to be negotiated this year. On a positive note, where we have CAs, member density is high.

If the HCA pay equity issues are successfully resolved through negotiations, pay relativities between HCAs and enrolled and registered nurse members and others, eg technicians, immediately arise. This has already been raised with us by delegates in the sector.

* Primary health care: The goal in PHC negotiations continues to be pay parity with DHB rates. Some of our largest national CAs in the sector, such as the PHC MECA, Plunket, Prison Health and Family Planning, have closed the pay gap to less than two per cent, while NZ Blood Service has achieved pay parity.

Where there is single employer bargaining, the pay gap is higher. To address pay equity in these circumstances, NZNO will continue to advocate for pay parity with DHB rates. The proposed pay equity legislation will offer opportunities to bring pay equity cases.

The pay equity settlement will have the most immediate impact on the kaiawhina and community support workers in the Maori and iwi workforce. This will be raised in our current round of Maori and iwi site collective bargaining.

* Aged care: The settlement creates immediate pressure for employers to lift the wages of ENs and RNs. Many ENs earn less than the caregivers' top rate from July 1, ie $23.50 an hour. Although RNs usually earn more, the average pay rate for RNs in the sector is around $26-$27/ hr, which will be at the top end of the caregiver pay scale by 2021.

With most CAs being renegotiated now, NZNO believes collective bargaining is the best way to resolve pay issues. It will be advocating for a pay scale for ENs and RNs that provides pay parity with DHB nurses and goes part way to recognising nurses' qualifications, skills and responsibilities.

Nurses have responded strongly, becoming more involved in collective bargaining, evidenced through greater return rates for bargaining surveys, new nurse delegates and more nurse nominations for bargaining teams.

The future

NZNO will continue to advocate strongly for the new legislation and campaign with other CTU-affiliated unions to influence the Government, pre--and post-election. We will also push for pay equity for all members, using the most effective approach, depending on the sector. We will continue the struggle for pay equity, to ensure all women who work in historically female-dominated jobs receive fair pay.

By NZNO industrial services manager Cee Payne

Caption: NZNO is committed to achieving pay equity for all members as swiftly as possible.
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Title Annotation:industrial focus
Author:Payne, Cee
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jul 1, 2017
Previous Article:At home working with her own people.
Next Article:DHB MECA negotiations underway.

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