Red Alert

Carers wages – enlightened or archaic?

Posted by on May 27th, 2012

A very courageous report from HRC equal employment opportunities commissioner Dr Judy McGregor was released today. This exceptional woman worked undercover in the elder care industry to find out for herself what is happening. We need more of this. There is too much pontificating from so-called experts who never get down and dirty and find out the real story.  If they did, they might be giving different advice to the government.

Dr McGregor’s report describes the work of aged care workers as a form of modern-day slavery.

It offends against human decency. The reliance on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-$14 an hour is a form of modern-day slavery. It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.

McGregor goes on to question why DHBs pay equivalent health care workers in the Public Health Sector up to $5 an hour more, when both hospitals and aged care are funded by the government.

There’s a structural and legislative answer to that. Years ago, before the National Government of the 1990′s, there was an industry award for Aged Care workers (and Hospital Caregivers), but that was decimated with the labour market reforms in 1990. Thousands of aged care workers in the sector lost their minimum pay rates, overtime pay, weekend penal rates and qualification allowances. Over time, Religious and Welfare organisations (who weren’t perfect, by the way) exited, handing the sector over to international corporates who dominate aged care today.

So,what did Labour in government do?  We changed the Employment Relations Act to enable multi-employer collective bargaining. That helped workers in the Public Hospital Sector, who managed to win multi-employer agreements. But it wasn’t enough for workers in Age Care, who are mainly women and part-time workers on low wages. Corporates resisted collective bargaining. Ryman Healthcare, for example. who has reported a huge profit, successfully evaded the collective bargaining requirements of the Employment Relations Act, reportedly paying up to $300 an hour for an advocate to sit at the table stymying good faith requirements.

Labour’s insistence that DHBs pass on targeted funding to providers giving an increase of $1 an hour to aged care workers ended up in Court. Some workers got the money ; others didn’t. The behaviour of the sector has demonstrated there is much more needed. Our 2011 work and wages policies for industry agreements would have made a difference, but one-eyed commentators from mainstream media didn’t get the picture.

Maybe they will now, when they understand that the reliance on the goodwill and commitment of low paid workers doesn’t mean better wages and conditions.

I’m hoping that if Judy McGregor talks to Kate Wilkinson soon she will explain that the government’s plans for  big reforms to collective bargaining will make it worse, not better for aged care workers.

Like it or not, there’s no way this issue can be separated from the rights of aged care workers to have a voice, to collectively bargain and for a fair rate across the industry to be set – as it once used to be, in, according to National and some media commentators, the dark old days.

Doesn’t seem so archaic to me.


9 Responses to “Carers wages – enlightened or archaic?”

  1. Tim G says:

    Good post – I find the whole undercover set up odd. Pity to see the other leading employment story was about the fact that workers spend 25% of their days time wasting and employers need to “find greater efficiencies” in “these tough economic times”.

    Now I am starting the clock to see how long it takes some toolory to use the catchphrases “union thugs” and “unions are from the 1970s”, preferably in the same sentence.

  2. Hamish Wilson says:

    Funny thing is it is the retirement villages with union representation that tend to be the lower paid like Oceania.

  3. Spud says:

    Archaic! :-( :-( :-( :-( :-( !!!!!

  4. John Ryall says:

    They’re all “lower paid” Hamish as they are all funded by the Government on the basis of low pay rates. The action against Oceania was not that the workers were low paid but that what little increase was paid last year from the Government was not passed on to the workers – something that all other chains had agreed to do.

    The difference with Rymans is that they are making super-profits off their property investment through selling prospective buyers built-in care arrangements.

    They need to share these super-profits with their care workforce.

  5. Darien Fenton says:

    @Hamish Wilson – funny thing is that unionised health care workers working in DHBs covered by multi employer collective agreements get up to $5 an hour more.

  6. Lara says:

    Is it just me that thinks there’s something more wrong with this whole scenario than this article covers?

    It seems that we not only use a “free” market system, we have become a market society. We value everything only in $$ and anything which cannot have or is difficult to put a $$ number on is unvalued.

    Caring for our vulnerable elderly, when done for profit, seems very wrong to me. It’s in the same boat as caring for sick who need to be in a hospital. And the biggest problem with doing it for profit is that requires those who need care to pay. And if you cannot pay, you don’t get the care you need.

    That is the result of placing $$ values upon caring.

    Private corporations have their primary goal, and legal requirement, of returning a profit to shareholders. So no one should be surprised when they keep one of their major costs, labour, as low as possible to maximise profit.

    The whole system stinks, and it is the most vulnerable who suffer it the most. We need a paradigm shift in how we fundamentally approach the problem. At this stage I don’t have a full answer of what an alternative may be and I’m still thinking on it. But I do tend to think it should be the way of state provided basic health and education, to remove a profit motive entirely.

  7. Fortran says:

    Why has this just suddenly occurred ?

  8. Tim G. says:

    That’s right Fortran, how dare Darien raise any issues about National’s (mis)governance that weren’t completely resolved by Labour 2 terms of government ago and have significantly deteriorated under National?

    Darien has already said the MECAs were one of Labour’s (quite successful) solutions. So what do you have to add to the debate?

  9. Alexandra Watson says:

    The invisible support worker maligned, under-valued, good enough to be entrusted with the parents of the baby boomers. Shame on all who exploit workers for the good of the share-holders and the shameless employers.It is time for the recipients of care workers services to speak up against the gross disrespect and exploitation by employers who capitalise on the good will of the most giving of workers.For too long, too many have ignored and devalued the pitiful, shameless return for a quality service that encompasses kindness, compassion and a genuine empathy for those who need care and support.This situation is shameful and should have been rectified years ago.