Mental Health workers lodge claim for pay equity

updated By Talisa Kupenga

Two of the country's largest unions have lodged a pay equity claim with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) on behalf of thousands of community mental health workers. The move comes less than two weeks out from a significant pay rise for their colleagues in the disability support and aged care sectors.

A pay equity claim lodged for mental health workers.

Mental Health worker and PSA claimant Pollyanna Alo says it’s a step in the right direction.

"It's something that should have happened a long time ago."

E Tū and Public Services Authority (PSA) unions brought the claim on behalf of about 4000 mental health community workers. Workers which government omitted from the historic Care and Support Worker Pay Equity Settlement, meaning they miss out on a $6-$7 an hour pay rise come next month.

E Tū Union spokesperson John Ryall says "under [the] settlement those workers who have got a level 4 qualification from July 1 move onto $23.50 an hour. There is a lot of mental health support workers who have that qualification and they should be getting that rate from July 1 and that's what we're after."

If successful the unions estimate the claim would cost the government between $30million and $40million a year. Alo says sometimes the job is extremely challenging.

"There was one experience I had when somebody came in the office and he threw a knife at me."There are other instances where they've spat at me, verbally abused me, threatened physical assault. It can be really draining at times and even though I love what I do sometimes I think it's just not worth it with the money that I get.'

Mental health advocate and ActionStation Campaign Director Laura O'Connell Rapira, says "most New Zealanders would agree that we want to take care of the people who want to take care of us. That means taking care of them in a way that means they are financially stable and able to make ends meet in their own lives so they can best care for the most vulnerable in our society."

The unions want action in two weeks and would like the claim sorted before the election. The ERA was contacted about this timeline but was yet to respond.