Fight for better pay and conditions not over for support staff

Timaru support worker Stephanie Bishop says support staff are often treated like commodities, not people.
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Timaru support worker Stephanie Bishop says support staff are often treated like commodities, not people.

It has been a momentous week for support staff after an historic pay equity deal for care workers was announced by Government.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman's $2 billion pay equity settlement, announced on Tuesday, was welcomed by workers and unions.

However, support staff in other industries say their fight for better pay and working conditions is not over.

Timaru support staff worker Stephanie Bishop's pay packet would be boosted by the announcement given one of her three jobs is a rest home support worker, but she planned to continue pressuring the Government for better conditions in her other jobs.

Bishop had been working in three part-time support staff jobs for the past two years.

She could not afford to support her family after her hours were reduced as a support teacher.

"I picked up my second job about nine years ago," Bishop said.

"Up until two years ago, I was working over 20 hours per week at school, usually between 22 and 25 hours per week. The most significant cuts were last year, down to 19 hours then down to 17 hours this year."

Bishop works about 48 hours per week as a support worker at a school and rest home as well as working in home support for people with disabilities.

She was frustrated because support staff were often under-valued and did not have job security.

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"We're not paid for school holidays, that's why I pick up extra jobs," Bishop said.

"I have a mortgage and a family to support, so I work.

"When I get the letter at the start of the year with the school's offer, I don't know what I'll get."

While her case was unique, she said support staff and students were suffering because of the lack of funding.

Students who needed constant one-on-one support, because they could not be on their own, might only have enough funding to cover 17 hours of the nearly 30 hours of school time, Bishop said.

"I can't help because there is no funding.

"Targeted funding at a student's required level would be a bonus."

She was paid less than $17 in her aged care role, which she hoped would be addressed in the Government's package.

The package will boost minimum pay by $4 an hour, while some workers would find their pay rose by as much as $7 per hour during the next five years.

The pay increase would not be backdated for workers and it would take immediate effect on July 1.

Ministry early learning and student achievement acting head Karl Le Quesne said the Ministry was in negotiations with the NZEI and E tū to renew the Support Staff in Schools' Collective Agreement.

Issues raised by Bishop over pay could be raised by the unions during the negotiations, Le Quesne said.

"Schools also receive a Special Education Grant as part of their funding, which they can use for support workers.

"What's really important for these students' learning is that teacher aides work with the classroom teacher to support the student's overall individual learning plan."

Students with the "greatest need" for one-to-one teacher aide support did receive that support through different programmes, including the Severe Behaviour Service.

"School operational grants are for the use of all their students, including those with additional learning needs. Schools can and do use that funding for support for students of all kinds, including support staff. That's appropriate."

 - Stuff

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