10 Mar 2023

Verrall promises extra funding if community nursing pay disparity found

4:27 pm on 10 March 2023
Labour MP Dr Ayesha Verrall

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall says she had been told there was no significant pay gap for other government-funded nursing groups. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government has asked the health authority to reinvestigate the pay gap for community nurses, who are leaving their employers in droves for better paying roles in public hospitals.

Funding of $40 million was put aside in November to increase pay for nurses and kaiāwhina who work in the funded sector, including in aged residential care, hospice, home and community support services, Pacific providers and Māori hauora partners. Providers in these five sectors will receive the additional funding by early April 2023 to increase pay rates for their eligible workers.

However, nurses who work in primary care were left out.

Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said she was told at the time there was no significant pay gap for this group, and so their wages were not increased.

But in a statement from her office, Verrall said she had asked Te Whatu Ora to re-investigate whether a gap existed.

"If disparities are found, Te Whatu Ora will advise myself and the Minister of Finance and we could make funding available from 1 July 2023 for the primary care sector."

She said Te Whatu Ora had already started engaging with some of the potential tranche two sectors.

The funding was "a significant investment to reduce pay gaps, but it will not result in the same pay or working conditions of Te Whatu Ora employed nurses. That is not its intention", she said.

Yet according to New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter, that's exactly what needed to happen.

"The government needs to recognise what we've said all along - a nurse is a nurse is a nurse. It doesn't matter where you work as a nurse, you should receive the same terms and conditions of employment."

Goulter said paying different wages to nurses across the industry created distortions in the labour market, as nurses leave jobs at GPs and move into hospitals.

"You're robbing Peter to pay Paul."

He welcomed the prospect of parity for community nurses being provided in the next funding tranche.

"[At that time] we were unable to convince the then-Minister of Health that there was significant pay parity issues for nurses working in primary health, across GP practices... We strongly contested that."

"Anyway, time's worn on, the new Minister of Health has made this announcement [and] we welcome that, we think it's appropriate that they revisit that decision, and we'll certainly be helping them with any data they need."

Whānau Āwhina Plunket chief executive Fiona Kingsford said Plunket nurses were in the third and final "tranche" to be considered for the pay parity deal, and they still had no details of how Te Whatu Ora planned to close the pay gap with hospital nurses.

"Since the November announcement, we have written to the Health Minister and met with Te Whatu Ora seeking clarification. We welcome any new developments to address pay disparities in a timely manner," she said.

"We are already underfunded for our core contracts, with such a pay disparity on top of this we are really concerned that we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain our frontline kaimahi and services to our whānau will be compromised."

This story has been updated with a correction to the group of nurses who are affected by the review.

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