Aotearoa’s aged residential care (ARC) sector is facing a crisis. That crisis, which has been described previously as sliding downhill quickly, is now rapidly nearing the bottom of the COVID-19 cliff. Prior to the 2020 Parliamentary elections, the incumbent Labour-led government promised fairer pay conditions and collective pay agreements through its FPA (Fair Pay Agreement) legislation. But, since the re-election of the Labour Party, the nursing sector has seen significant money spent in raising the pay of nurses who work directly for the District Health Boards (DHBs), in hospitals and other more visible areas of the health system, while those working in ARC are left without.
The collective pay agreement reached by members of the nurses’ union, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), with the Labour Government is a welcome step for often under-appreciated and underpaid essential workers. However, nurses working in just as important but less-visible areas of the health system are continuing to live with the conditions decried by their DHB counterparts. Understaffed, overworked and underpaid, the ARC sector is looking into the face of the crisis while the promise of a Fair Pay Agreement and the funding to make this possible appear to have slipped away.
The ARC sector is in desperate need of a cash injection. The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) estimates that due to a lack of government funding, aged care nurses earn on average $10,000 less per year than their DHB counterparts (NZACA, 2020). Those working in the sector maintain that there is a significant number of nurses who would prefer to provide their service and experience in aged care. However, the pay disparity makes this a difficult choice. (Health Central, 2019). The collective pay agreement reached by DHB nurses makes working within the hospitals of the regional centres, where funding is slightly less desperate, much more appealing – especially as the cost of living throughout Aotearoa rises exponentially.
The ARC sector will require funding to be clearly demarcated for it to continue providing the invaluable services it does, especially within the current context of COVID-19 and a population which is projected to age exponentially over the coming years (Stats NZ, 2020).
To be clear, the publicly funded healthcare system is lacking funding throughout. The reluctance to put all nurses in all areas of the system on a fair wage with guarantees of staffing and all the requirements for a safe working environment through a collective pay agreement is understandable if the purpose is to save money. However, at the beginning of a new wave of a highly virulent strain of the COVID-19 virus, the position of NZCCSS and of our members – who are providing care to the most vulnerable and immunocompromised of our society, is that the priority needs to be saving lives, not money.
- Support fair pay for New Zealand’s aged care nurses. NZACA. https://nzaca.org.nz/fair-pay/
- Mind the Gap, why aged care nurses are leaving for DHB Jobs. Health Central. https://healthcentral.nz/mind-the-gap-why-aged-care-nurses-are-leaving-for-dhb-jobs/
- National population projections: 2020(base)-2073. Stats NZ. https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/national-population-projections-2020base2073