Jess Taylor chose to work as a caregiver because she wanted a job that meant something.
But being paid the minimum wage of $15.75 an hour for such a mentally and physically demanding job made her question every morning how she was going to pay the bills that week.
On Wednesday the government announced a $2 billion package to address the pay inequity in the aged care sector, an industry predominantly staffed by women.
The proposed deal will see the hourly rate of more than 55,000 workers being lifted to between $19 and $23.50 from July 1, with an additional rise in July 2021 which will bring the hourly pay to between $21.50 and $27.
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Taylor worked at Stillwater Gardens Retirement Village for almost a year before embarking on a new position at retirement village Summerset in the Sun a month ago.
She said the pay increase was “huge, that doesn’t happen very often at all”.
“To be honest it’s quite offensive when checkout girls can start on more than what we earn.”
For Taylor, earning more meant she would be able to pay her bills and have enough food in the fridge.
“It means that we can actually afford to take days off when we’re sick. We never can because we get paid so little.”
She said her job was “a hard job, mentally and physically” and the pay increase made her feel more valued.
“You regularly lose people that you care about because it’s hard to not get attached when you spent so much time with them every single day.
The settlement had been negotiated by the government and the unions over the past 20 months.
The issue was first highlighted when Lower Hutt aged care worker Kristine Bartlett took her employer TerraNova to court, arguing they were under-paying staff because of the high percentage of female employees.
Hundreds of workplace meetings will be held over the coming weeks where workers in the sector will discuss the results of the negotiations and vote on whether to accept the offer. If it is endorsed, the new rates of pay will come in to effect on July 1.
FIRST union organiser and Nelson Labour candidate Rachel Boyack said the deal was a long time coming.
She said Nelson had a lot of people working in the aged care sector because it was a place where people chose to retire.
“I think we do have excellent care givers but I also know a lot of caregivers move on to other occupations because … they do a really difficult job, they work extraordinarily hard … and they’re not feeling valued.”
Boyack said she hoped the deal would mean that there would be less of a turnover in the sector.
“I have heard that there will be greater emphasis on training and that’s fantastic because the better the skills people have the better the quality of care provided to those who need it as well.
“It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Boyack said the next step included rolling the pay increase out to “all the other women who are underpaid purely because they’re women”.
Registered nurse and New Zealand Nurses Organisation member Lyn Shirley said she was “so glad that these girls, mainly girls, are going to be totally valued for the fantastic work that they do”.
“It’s not a job that everyone can do. It’s a very highly skilled job and it hasn’t been recognised as being skilled until now.
“Hopefully now the ones who are able to and who are the right personality … will think of aged care rather than just going to The Warehouse and getting more money, because that’s what’s been happening.”
She said the settlement was a start to improving the pay of everyone in the aged care sector.