David Wait is NZNO’s industrial adviser for the aged care sector. This week he attended the Careerforce and Health Workforce New Zealand Workforce Development conference. Here are a few of his thoughts on the first day.
A highlight of the first day of the conference was a presentation by Dr Judy McGregor. Dr McGregor was the Human Rights Commissioner who investigated the aged care sector and wrote the report “Caring counts: Report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce”. The report set out a number of recommendations, particularly around mandatory staffing levels, pay and mandatory training.
Since the report was published a coalition of unions, employers and national leaders and decision-makers in the aged care sector has been formed to advance the recommendations. One summit has been held and another is planned for later this year.
Here’s what Dr McGregor had to say about progress on the recommendations.
Pay parity – not achieved.
The Caring Counts report recommended that the Minister of Health directs District Health Boards (DHBs) to develop a mechanism to achieve pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities. And that DHBs and residential care and home support providers implement pay parity for carers across the government-funded health sector within three years.
Pay parity has not been achieved, although Dr McGregor states that there is momentum with the equal pay case, being led by Kristine Bartlett. The case is complex and may go all the way to the Supreme Court. Regardless of what happens in the courts the issue is not that we cannot afford equal pay, but that we cannot afford discrimination.
(I enjoyed Dr McGregor’s idea to have Kristine Bartlett feature on our next new bank note!)
Training – partly achieved.
The report recommends providers in the aged care sector and the ITO (Careerforce) commit to ensuring all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years. Within five years, Level 3 should become the normal level of qualification for all staff with 18 months service or more.
At the first Caring Counts summit, Careerforce announced it would incentivise training with payments to providers, since then there has been increase to training of approximately 68% and the number of people completing training has also risen.
Consumer information – some progress to date.
The recommendation is that a five star system of quality assurance comparing residential facilities, with the aim of improving consumer choice and public accountability, is developed and adopted for use in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health and DHBs with input from the Auditor-General (A-G).
Full audits have been made publicly available with 2500 downloads and 6500 visits to the site. However, audits do not include follow up on how issues identified in audits have been addressed. You can find the audits here:https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support/health-care-services/services-older-people/rest-home-certification-and-audits/rest-home-audits-full-reports. Importantly, the public availability of these audits is a trail. We will watch with interest to see whether the Ministry of Health continues its commitment to transparency.
The “Indicators for safe aged and dementia care” was not discussed. The other recommendation was achieved. What we know is that staffing is often far from adequate, with care hour reviews frequently showing staffing levels lower than those set out by the standards document. We also know that these standards are out of date and that the acuity of residents has increased, requiring higher staffing levels than were needed in 2004.
The recommendation is that the Human Rights Commission hosts a stakeholder summit with government agencies, peak bodies, providers, Age Concern and Grey Power, trade unions and community groups to enhance sector cooperation and to promote and celebrate the paid aged care workforce.
We have a way to go yet. It is particularly important to get more money into the pay packets of carers.
The Caring counts report says,
“The reliance of New Zealand, of all of us, on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-14 an hour is a form of modern day slavery. It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.”
Dr McGregor reiterated how important it is for everybody involved in the aged care sector to work together to find a solution.
It is really good to hear that there has been progress made on the recommendations and that Dr McGregor is still a passionate advocate for the cause. We are equally pleased that Jackie Blue, who has taken on the role of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, is similarly committed to Caring Counts. We look forward to working with her on this issue.
Dr McGregor said she still receives heartfelt letters from families, thanking her for her work to improve conditions for workers in the aged care sector. And she told a story that really illustrates how important this work is for all New Zealanders.
There have only been three times that the phone lines have jammed at the Human Rights Commission during her time. The first was in response to something Hone Harawira said, the second time was in response to something Paul Henry said, and the third time was a massive outpouring of hope and support for the Caring counts report and the potential it has to achieve justice in an undervalued workforce.
That about sums it up for me! Together, we will reach our goal.
You can find the report here: http://www.hrc.co.nz/eeo/caring-counts-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-aged-care-workforce/
And the full list of recommendations here: http://www.hrc.co.nz/eeo/caring-counts-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-aged-care-workforce/caring-counts-recommendations/