07 Oct 2019
If you’re like me, you’re probably wading through an election booklet full of unfamiliar candidates touting new ideas and lofty promises. You may be wondering if it’s worth the bother of voting on 12 October. Will your ballot make any difference? These questions may seem especially pertinent when trying to vet those vying for victory in the District Health Board (DHB) elections.
Let me assure you that your DHB vote is crucial, particularly when it comes to improving and maintaining the work conditions of those who care for some of the most vulnerable in our community. Among the many decisions they make, DHB members approve the contractual agreements of private health providers who employ caregivers in residential aged care and home and community care.
These contracts for service detail how many staff must be on duty in a rest home, how much funding is available for home-based care, and when that kind of support is required. The candidates elected to the DHBs could make the difference between your grandmother being allotted 10 minutes for a carer to help her shower and dress, or a longer window of time to ensure she is cared for without being rushed, and that the carer can work safely and notice any changes in her physical or mental health.
What happened after the victory for equal pay?
Our care and support workers now earn better hourly wages thanks to the hard work of Kristine Bartlett and her union in fighting for equal pay. But since the case was settled in 2017 and wages increased, our research at AUT’s NZ Work Research Institute has found that homecare workers’ conditions have, in many instances, deteriorated.
Faced with the ‘guaranteed hours’ policy aimed at providing predictable hours from one week to the next, some employers have worked around the rules to incrementally reduce the ‘guaranteed’ minimum hours assigned to each worker. Instead of bringing home a bigger weekly wage, a number of workers have had to find second jobs to offset a drop in their regular hours – and pay.
Perhaps not surprisingly, our most qualified and experienced care workers bear the biggest brunt here – because they are the most expensive.
Get informed, get out to vote
Care and support workers provide vital but often less-than-glamourous roles in our communities. Usually, their work is hidden away in the suburbs, out of sight and out of mind. But the services delivered by home-based workers make a big difference to the quality of lives of their clients – who can stay safe and cared for at home – and their families.
Knowledge is power, especially at election time. I urge all voters to get informed about the issues facing home-based workers. Ask your DHB candidates where they stand on this issue and vote with your head.
Katherine Ravenswood is Associate Professor of Management in the School of Business.