11 Jun 2017

'In your pay packet there will be a sorry' - $2b settlement for care workers passes

From The House , 7:32 am on 11 June 2017

Legislation to pay out a two billion dollar settlement to care and support workers has made its way through Parliament in just two weeks. 

The Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Bill will give pay rises to about 50,000 workers - who are mostly female - from the first of July.

The settlement follows the successful claim of caregiver Kristine Bartlett who, in 2013, argued her low pay rate was gender discrimination.

Kristine Bartlett, who took the initial case in the Employment Court, with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman as he signs the deal.

Kristine Bartlett, who took the initial case in the Employment Court, with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman as he signs the deal. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

Before any money can be paid out, however, Parliament had to pass legislation prescribing the minimum pay rates and it needed to do it quickly.

But it couldn’t put it through without agreement from Parliament to bend a few rules.

Usually, a bill can only go through one stage each sitting day but this Bill was allowed to have its introduction and first reading back to back.

“In this particular case everybody was keen to see this legislation facilitated as quickly as possible,” said the Speaker of the House David Carter who chairs the Business Committee which makes these decisions. 

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 The Speaker of the House and chair of the Business Committee David Carter.  Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Bill was introduced while Parliament was sitting under urgency which allows for it to go straight through the House without going to a select committee.

“It’s not the tidiest way of doing it,” said David Carter.

“It’s not cosmetically very tidy to be ramming anything through an urgency process and it misses a select committee process which I think is important.”

Every political party is represented at the Business Committee and decisions, like fast-tracking a bill, need near unanimity to go ahead -  the Speaker decides when that has been reached.

“Increasingly we’re finding that this Parliament, and hopefully future parliaments, will use that Business Committee process to adjust the rules to get the best possible outcome.”

The Business Committee, which has cross party membership, meets in the Speaker's office every sitting week.

The Business Committee, which has cross party membership, meets in the Speaker's office every sitting week. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Even with a select committee process thrown into the mix, some were still concerned by the quick turnaround of the Bill.

“We thank you for the opportunity to quickly use our weekend to put together our submission,” former president of the New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women Angela McLeod told the Health Committee.

“Part of our concern with this is that we’re not sure how many non-government organisations actually have the resources to do such a submission on such an important bill in such a short time,” she said.

The Health Committee received 42 submissions on the bill and reported back to the house a week after hearing submissions - select committees normally have six months to consider a bill.

“If any piece of legislation has a report back [time] that’s less than four months, that in itself institutes another debate within the House,” said David Carter.

The debate is a chance for the opposition to argue the government’s trying to “truncate the process” he said. 

“On this occasion the government requested that there would not be a debate and the Business Committee saw the benefit in trying to achieve and facilitate this legislation in a way that it got to a select committee and again avoided the other option the government had - which was to use its numbers and do it through urgency.”

On the same day the committee’s report was read in the House, the bill had its second reading (again ignoring the ‘one stage per sitting day’ rule).

After a bill has passed its second reading the House turns into a committee (called the Committee of the Whole House) which examines and debates each part of the bill. 

It’s a process that can take multiple sittings to get through but again the Business Committee sped things up with a time limit of 1.5 hours.

Straight after the Bill had its third reading in which MPs gave their final thoughts.

National MP for Taranaki-King Country, Barbara Kuriger listens to a submission to the Health Committee on a petition about medically-assisted dying.

National MP Barbara Kuriger on the Health Committee.  Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate - Cox

National MP and chair of the Health Committee Simon O’Connor said it’s a “good bill which seeks to do good things for good people”.
“My thanks to all of those who work in this sector tirelessly day after day, to Kristine Bartlett who I can see in the gallery there, thank you for your efforts, thank you for your work with the unions and then working cooperatively with the providers and the crown to come to this arrangement,” he said.

National MP Barbara Kuriger said the process had been “very quick” but was also “very thorough” while Green MP Denise Roche said even though the settlement has gone through she still hasn’t heard an apology.

“There should be an apology because women workers have been ripped off for decades,” she said.

“But you know what? On the first of July, in your pay packet women, there will be a sorry.”

The final step needed is the Governor General’s signature to turn the Bill into law.