The Alliance Party is delighted that things are hotting up in the equal pay for aged care workers campaign. The appeal to the Employment Court ruling is due to be heard at the end of January. Many more workers have come forward and further applications have been lodged with the Employment Relations Authority. According the unions involved, thousands more are expected to join the action in the new year.
The Aged Care Association is worried. Their CEO says they have no choice but to fight these cases. This is not true. There is a very simple solution. Rather than engage in lengthy and expensive legal battles, the Aged Care Service Providers could simply accept the original Employment Court ruling.
If they care as much as they say they do about the elderly they provide services for and their workers, they should recognize that this is a golden opportunity to work with the Service and Food Workers Union and NZ Nurses Association to find a way for aged care workers to get a fair remuneration that reflects the importance of the work and the skills needed to do the job effectively.
This may well involve putting pressure on the government to increase the funding rate. No taxpayer would begrudge this if it was tagged to an agreed increase in wages for aged care workers. And there would be just as many flow on economic benefits for the country as there will be out of any Avatar movie produced here.
We should not accept the line that the government spends a lot of money on aged care already. Of course they do. There are a lot of elderly people in New Zealand and the number of people needing support is increasing rapidly so costs are rising.
And the government is directly responsible, whether they want to admit it or not. Aged care is fully government funded. It must remain so to ensure everyone who needs support gets it. The government as the funder of aged care in New Zealand is obliged to fund services at a rate that enables them to adhere to the court’s ruling on workers wages.
If every organization, group, and individual who cares about quality aged care services and equal pay for women lobbied the government it would be a powerful message that would not be easy to ignore in an election year.
Let’s put gender pay equity on the agenda this election, starting with equal pay for aged care workers. It is time for care work to be respected as a career not just seen as women’s work to be done on the cheap.