Mental health workers excluded from equal pay deal
Mental health workers were not covered by the recent pay deal given to other carers because "the line had to be drawn somewhere", government officials say.
Care and support workers in aged care, disability care and home support this year won a long-awaited pay rise thanks to an historic equal pay settlement.
They will now be paid the same as workers in similar industries not filled by predominantly female workers.
However, their counterparts in mental health support will get nothing, unions say.
The PSA and E tu unions have now lodged an equal pay claim with the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of mental health workers.
* Mental health care and support workers launch fight for pay equity
* Historic pay increase for workers in female dominated industry
* Wage hike for female service workers likely as part of historic pay equity deal
The Ministry of Health has said pay compromises had to be made.
"The line had to be drawn somewhere and there is always an element of compromise in negotiations of this scale," ministry chief people and transformation officer Stephen Barclay said.
"All settlement parties agreed the scope of the settlement would cover the 55,000 care and support workers across home and community support, aged residential care, and community and residential living sectors."
Barclay said the ministry could not comment on pay parity or what rates community mental health workers should be paid, "especially while this claim is before the Employment Relations Authority".
As part of the $2 billion pay equity settlement, workers in and out of scope of the settlement were decided during confidential negotiations over 20 months.
Verity Brown, of Whanganui, has been a community mental health and addiction services support worker for nine years.
She is one of the 18 who filed the claim.
"It's a different job every day. We work with unique people with challenging mental health issues and you have to adapt quickly to meet the demand.
"I've been working in mental health services for nine years and it's changed a lot in that time in Whanganui. We have to do a lot more with less now and that's not being recognised in our pay."
Brown said she signed on as a claimant because she believed they deserved the same deal as care and support workers.
"We work on the same frontline, dealing with similar pressures and difficulties.
"I just hope the Government values us enough to settle the case without going to court – we deserve equal pay."
PSA mental health committee member and claimant Pollyanna Alo said it was "completely unfair" that mental health support workers receive unequal pay.
"We're highly qualified, and we work under intense pressure and stress right at the heart of our communities trying to address serious mental health issues like suicide."
E tu member and claimant Vicki Harmon said people were leaving mental health services in droves.
"We've had so many people leave our organisation for other disability providers and we're exhausted doing the extra work. It's a struggle to fill the rosters and everyone is knackered.
Harmon said that was not good for the people they help.