Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pay deal could worsen rural nursing shortage

Neal Wallace
New equity agreements exclude those working in community and primary facilities.
If nurses are doing an equal job then they should get the same pay regardless of where they work, says Rural Health Network (Hauora Taiwhenua) chair Fiona Bolden.
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The current shortage of nurses working in rural practices could become more accentuated with recent pay parity and pay equity agreements excluding those in community and primary facilities.

The wage difference between those working comparable jobs in community-owned rural hospitals and those run by Health NZ (Te Whatu Ora), could now be $20,000 a year following those agreements.

“If nurses are doing an equal job then they should get the same pay regardless of where they work,” Rural Health Network (Hauora Taiwhenua) chair Fiona Bolden said.

Adding to the disparity is the 5% increase in the annual capitation payment to community and primary health providers, which she said is not enough to meet pay parity let alone cover rising costs.

Bolden said this is happening as the international demand for nurses soars, especially from Australia, where they can command much higher wages.

The nurses pay equity agreement follows six years of court action and lobbying by unions. Bolden said to extend that to include those working in community or primary facilities would take a comparable period.

Some practice owners are sacrificing other business investments or their own income to try to pay competitive wages to their staff.

“It seems a no-brainer to at least meet pay parity for community care nurses especially when you look at the health reforms, which are about care in the community.”

The pay equity settlement, costing $200 million a year, was recently announced between Health NZ, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO), and the Public Service Association (PSA).

The pay equity agreement with nurses will see them receive a further $15,000 gross lump sum, in addition to the $10,000 already received, along with pay increases ranging from 4.5% to 6.5% depending on seniority.

This is backdated to March 7 last year.

Mark Powell, Health NZ’s manager for community health system improvement, and innovation and commissioning, said the recently announced pay rates apply to nurses and healthcare assistants, aged care workers, disability support workers, technicians and orderlies that it employs.

The pay equity settlement does not negate the contribution of primary and community nurses but reflects the time and effort that the NZNO, PSA and Health NZ invested over five years to progress the claim since it was formally raised by the unions in 2017. 

“Both the government and Te Whatu Ora have acknowledged that this funding is not expected to achieve pay parity but is a significant contribution to moving towards pay parity for this workforce.

“For providers who have accepted and received funding, there is a requirement to report back on use of funding, including wage rates.”

Powell said the 5% lift in funding for primary and community providers is the largest increase in over 10 years and is to meet cost pressures, including workforce wages.

“We are aware of the staffing challenges faced in all professions by rural health providers and we are progressing workforce initiatives to help rural health providers meet staffing requirements.”

It has introduced a $9100 accommodation allowance so general practitioners can live within 30km of a rural practice, funding for locums to cover rural nurses and doctors, a nurse practitioner training programme and initiatives to grow the permanent and locum workforce.