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New Zealand aged care nurses push for pay parity

Just under 14,000 New Zealanders have signed a petition calling for an end to the pay disparity between the country’s registered nurses who work in aged care and their counterparts in public hospitals.

“Registered nurses who work in aged care in New Zealand earn on average at least $10,000 a year less than nurses who work in public hospitals,” the petition read.

“That’s not because they are any less skilled or important, but because of years of underfunding of rest homes by successive governments and undervaluing of the care of older people.”

Set up by the New Zealand Aged Care Association, the petition to Dr David Clark, New Zealand’s Minister of Health, is pushing to close that $10,000 gap for each of the country’s 5,000-plus aged care nurses.

The issue of pay disparity has been consistently raised in Australia over the last decade. In October last year, the assistant secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s Victorian branch, Paul Gilbert, told the aged care royal commission that while the state’s private-for-profit and not-for-profit aged care nurses earned the same as public aged care and public hospital nurses in the 1990s, a wage gap emerged between the sectors following the introduction of enterprise bargaining.

“Today, despite the injection of more than $2 billion in federal government funding to boost wages, a Victorian nurse working in private-for-profit or not-for-profit residential aged care earns about 19 per cent less than a nurse doing the same work in a public aged care facility or a public hospital,” Gilbert said.

In its push for better pay for the country’s aged care nurses, the New Zealand Aged Care Association said that it was thanks to their skill and leadership that the vast majority of the country’s aged care homes saw zero COVID-19 cases.

And Katherine Ravenswood, an associate professor in Employment Relations at Auckland University of Technology, said that staffing issues were likely to be a factor for those that did.

Half of the country’s Covid-19 deaths were residents from one rest home in Christchurch, while three more cases were at another in Auckland.

In an article written for The Conversation, Ravenswood, who spoke at the Australian Aged Care Royal Commission, said her research suggests any inquiry into why COVID-19 tore through some of the country’s aged care homes and not others needs to pay more attention to caregivers and their concerns about lack of support for quality aged care.

“It is time policymakers, funders and aged care providers address the elephant in the room: that quality care requires more staff and more time,” she said.

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