A Little Goes A Long Way

06 Aug 2018

I was really pleased to see the mental health and addiction support worker pay equity agreement was signed by Health Minister David Clark this month, on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

The quick backstory here is in 2012 a rest home worker set off a chain reaction of events that eventually raised public and political awareness of the complexity of work undertaken by the little known care worker workforce – aged care, disability, community, mental health and addiction.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Government (not the current one) signed in to law the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Act. At the stroke of a pen 55,000 workers were positively impacted with improved pay and access to training.

55,000 workers positively impacted at the stroke of a pen…

All sounds great but for reasons unknown the Government excluded mental health and addiction support workers – a further 5000 or so people. Now, a further year on the current Government has done the right thing and extended the Act to include this important part of a contemporary mental health and addiction system.

The 5000 workers who will finally receive somewhere between a $100 – $200 per week, pre-tax, increase. $173.5m in total. Some may say that’s an increase that’s not affordable but if the work was undertaken by the traditional mental health workforce – doctors, nurses, allied health professionals – it would cost a hell of a lot more.  The work still needed to be done and our District Health Board colleagues really understood this.

In an environment where there is constant talk of the sustainability of health and human services and in particular, the pressure on the workforce, I often wonder how we are defining workforce?

The news from across the ditch has been a good reminder to me that it needs to be considered in a much broader context and also in the context of the things that contribute to improved wellbeing, not just treatment and recovery from illness.

I started out as a mental health and addiction support worker. The $173.5m represents great value for money. Trust me.