Tomorrow morning 1500 nurses, health care assistants and support staff employed by the 20 facilities in the Oceania chain of Aged Care Facilities are striking. Some of the residents they care for will join them in the protest.
Caregivers do magnificent work caring for members of our families as they get older and less able to look out for themselves. But they are underpaid and undervalued. I know. I was privileged to be a Rest Homes organiser and advocate before I became an MP and I have nothing but admiration for the work that aged care workers do and the commitment they make.
This isn’t an easy job. Looking after older people in aged care facilities requires skill and intensive responsibility for people with enormous support needs.
There’s been a change from “mum and dad” owned rest homes or Religious and Welfare homes, where older people could have a sedate and dignified retirement, to “ageing in place” where older people stay in their homes with support from Home Support Services. I support this approach, but it means our aged care facilities have been taken by corporate interests, looking to cash in our growing population. Oceania is a private equity firm, whose parent company is Macquarie Global Infrastructure.
While much of New Zealand’s aged care support comes from our health budget - funded by you and me, corporates are shipping off the profits to their overseas shareholders.
I also know how much former Labour Ministers did to try to address the problem of low pay in this burgeoning industry, and how much it was resisted by the industry. They seem to be more interested in discussing their return on investment rather than the terrible state of the workforce and the crises that keep occurring through low-paid workers caring for very vulnerable old people.
Some Oceania workers are paid as little as $13.61 an hour. They shouldn’t have to strike.
But that’s all they can do.