Midwives settle pay equity fight and get $8 million pay rise

Midwife Violet Clapham, left, with new mother Jennifer Orange and her 3-week-old son, Theo Orange.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Midwife Violet Clapham, left, with new mother Jennifer Orange and her 3-week-old son, Theo Orange.

Midwives have settled a fight for pay equity following mediation with the Government.

The New Zealand College of Midwives (NZCOM) has withdrawn its court action after the Government promised a 6 per cent pay increase and a place at the table for community midwives to design their pay structure and working conditions.

NZCOM chief executive Karen Guilliland said the agreed pay increase was "only a start towards addressing the existing pay equity gap of 30 per cent".

Midwife Violet Clapham, left, has helped Jennifer Orange with two births over the past three years.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Midwife Violet Clapham, left, has helped Jennifer Orange with two births over the past three years.

She was confident midwives would be able to negotiate more through a redesign of the overall funding model.

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The settlement would affect community midwives who provided a lead maternity carer service to pregnant women and were self employed. It did not cover hospital midwives, employed by district health boards.

Jennifer Orange, right, says midwives do "amazing" work and should be recognised.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Jennifer Orange, right, says midwives do "amazing" work and should be recognised.

The settlement was legally binding and NZCOM could resume court action if the Ministry of Health failed to follow up on its promises, Guilliland said. 

The mediation started in August 2016, a year after NZCOM lodged a high profile equal pay court challenge.

They alleged then that the ministry's pay levels breached gender rules under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. 

Almost all of New Zealand's 3000 midwives are women.

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The average self-employed midwife in New Zealand earned $2200 per case, including 10 months of consultation and care and being on call 24 hours a day for the mother, NZCOM said at the time. 

Guilliland said she was pleased with the mediation's outcome.

"For the first time in New Zealand history, midwives will themselves be designing pay structures and working conditions for community lead maternity carer midwives. We will be working with ministry officials on this re-design process.

"In the past, funding and conditions have been decided by a system that seldom included midwives or even considered what midwives do," she said.

The Ministry of Health agreed to an "interim" pay increase of 6 per cent, covering the period of the re-design process from July 2017 to August 2018, and an extra $1 million targeted towards "urgent areas of need", Guilliland said.

This included things like urgent travel costs, where midwives had to travel with women transferring to a hospital several hours away.

The pay increase, together with a 2.5 per cent rise from last year and 2 per cent in 2015, equated to about $220 extra per uncomplicated birth.

Guilliland said she was confident the legally-binding agreement meant midwives would "never again find themselves so unrecognised and undervalued".

"We now have the opportunity to make sure midwives are respected and properly reimbursed for the 24 hours a day service they provide."

NZCOM Canterbury-West Coast region chairwoman Violet Clapham said midwives had not had a significant pay increase since 2007.

A midwife had four to five cases a month on average, and was paid $50,000 to $55,000 a year after expense deductions.

Clapham said being on call 24 hours a day meant missing out on many of her two children's birthdays, Christmases and school performances.

"Midwifery is my passion and calling in life but the mother's guilt still kicks in."

She hoped the redesign of the funding model would address pressing issues including paying midwives for travel costs and extra visits they had to do in complex cases.

Clapham's client, Jennifer Orange, said she and her husband moved back to New Zealand from Singapore when they decided to start a family, partly to be able to access midwifery care.

Clapham helped her with the birth of two babies.

"It's fantastic to have that continuity of care and that trusted person you can call anytime."

She said the settlement was "a step in the right direction" toward recognising the' "amazing job" midwives did.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the 2017 Budget would increase community-based midwives' pay by $8m.

 - Stuff

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