NZ support workers need more support

12 Apr, 2021
NZ support workers need more support
Associate Professor Katherine Ravenswood

Most support workers in New Zealand feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued.

This, despite the country's groundbreaking policy announcements since 2017 to help ensure support workers receive equal pay and have regular, guaranteed hours.

A new study by AUT Business School's Associate Professor Katherine Ravenswood, Dr Julie Douglas and Tanya Ewertowska sheds light on the experiences of support workers, nurses and managers working in residential aged care, home and community support, disability support, and mental health and addiction support throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Care Workforce Survey 2019 collects data on these workers' experiences and work conditions, including workplace relationships, job satisfaction, training, and health and safety.

Less than half of all respondents reported that their pay rate reflects their skills and work responsibilities. Less than half of support workers and nurses agreed that they get the respect and acknowledgement deserved for their work efforts; and less than half agreed that they have good relationships with management.

The survey also found that while care and support workers, nurses and managers across the sectors are satisfied with the work itself, most would not recommend their job to friends or families.

Compared to other sectors, support workers in-home and community care describe some of the least favourable work conditions including:

  • Over a quarter of care workers are more likely to work split shifts, and the majority reported a 'shortest shift' of four hours or less.
  • They are more likely to have a low number of weekly guaranteed hours, with more than half working fewer than 30 hours per week.
  • Nearly two-thirds of home and community support workers would like to have more hours of work.

Associate Professor Ravenswood says the historic 2017 Support Workers Pay Equity Act, worth $2 billion, aimed to boost wages, reduce turnover and improve access to training for 55,000 care and support workers.

These changes had a huge impact, particularly on hourly wages, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that these workers have consistent, sustainable weekly hours.

"Among other things, the new law was meant to guarantee a certain number of hours every week for carers – but our findings show some managers may be manipulating schedules to minimise the number and therefore cost of those guaranteed hours. That creates a stressed workforce which in turn impacts those who most need the care," says Associate Professor Ravenswood.

Associate Professor Ravenswood says that the report highlights the need for stronger regulation of carers' work conditions, including around support for training and for ongoing commitments to minimum hours and equitable wages.

"As the current pay equity settlement act draws to an end, it's very concerning that we haven't seen an improvement in the carers' work conditions. At the end of 2022, care workers will be more exposed than they were before the settlement. The time to enshrine fair and decent wage and working conditions is now," says Associate Professor Ravenswood.

Panel discussion

Associate Professor Ravenswood will join a panel of speakers discussing the future of home and community support services at Parliament from 6.30-7.30pm on Wednesday 14 April. Panellists include care and support workers, Grey Power, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner and employer representatives. The event is organised by the two unions representing the home and community support workforce, the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi and E tū.

Read The New Zealand Care Workforce Survey 2019 Report