Wellington Scoop

“No choice:” midwives file pay parity discrimination case in High Court

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Photo from PSA

News from NZ College of Midwives
“We have been left with no choice.” That from Karen Guilliland, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand College of Midwives, as the organisation prepared to file a pay parity discrimination case, on the basis of gender under the NZ Bill of Rights Act, in the High Court in Wellington today.

The College of Midwives says the midwifery-led system in New Zealand has improved the outcomes for women and their babies to the extent that it is a world leader in maternity care and it has never been safer to be born.²

Despite this however the LMC Midwife is paid the equivalent of someone considered unskilled, semi-skilled or junior staff. This is untenable and must be urgently addressed.

Ms Guilliland says mother and babies will be disadvantaged if the Ministry of Health does not pay attention to the needs of midwives to have a level of income that enables them to provide quality care. 99.9% of the midwives affected are women.

Fair remuneration, professional support and recognition of the almost exclusively female communitymidwife Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) workforce has been lacking for many years. The Ministry of Health’s underfunding and lack of supportive frameworks for midwives is now seriously threatening the viability of community maternity based care.

“Even more concerning it has started to impact on the midwife LMC’s ability to provide women with the services they have come to expect and deserve over the last 25 years. This case is not only about pay equity for a female workforce: it is also about protecting future mothers and babies and sustaining the midwifery workforce that provides them with the majority of their maternity care,” she adds.

The responsibilities and workload of LMC midwives have increased significantly since 1993 when we fought for ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ to the Maternity Benefits Tribunal and won.

LMC midwives are paid set fees by the Ministry of Health via Section 88 Notice (Maternity Payment Schedule) but since 2007 there have been only two small fee increases to the Notice that have not even covered inflation. “Neither fee increase recognised the huge increase in the scope of duties and responsibilities of midwives and the fact they are working with women and babies with far more complexity¹,” says Ms Guilliland. “Midwives haven’t been paid properly since 1996, so this claim has been about 20 years in the making.

This year the Ministry is only allocating $2.1 million as a fee increase for payments available for approximately 1000 LMC midwives and over 52,000 mothers and babies. This equates to around $41 extra per birth. This for a 7-9 month, 24 hour on-call personal service and it is not going to address the need for a sustainable income,” she says.

“It is the last straw. The Ministry of Health cannot continue to ignore and undervalue its female work forces and the thousands of mums and babies that rely on our midwives.

Other countries look to New Zealand as an example of what a safe and effective maternity system looks like. However there is a real risk of losing this system that works so well for women and their babies if a financially unsustainable payment system means we can’t recruit and retain our LMC workforce,” says Ms Guilliland.

¹ In 2007, midwives worked with 70% of women having babies, now they work with 90% of women having babies. This increases the number of complex cases they work with.

News from NZSO
Momentum is building in New Zealand to address gender pay inequality, say New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) caregivers, nurses and midwives.

NZNO industrial services manager, Cee Payne says, “NZNO is committed to women’s work being based on the real value of the work taking into account the skills, training and experience on the job. We believe the New Zealand College of Midwives claim for pay parity, filed in the High Court today, will be successful. It’s time the gender pay gap was closed. ”

“Equal pay is an issue for all women workers from caregivers, to lawyers, to midwives and every female-dominated occupation in between. To close the pay gap in the health sector it must be funded properly. The current and deliberate underfunding of health shows itself in the shrinking pay packets of community midwives.”

The College filed papers under the Bill of Rights claims Lead Maternity Carers who work in the community are paid less because they are women.

“We wish our midwife colleagues all the best with their claim. We’ll stand with them all the way”, Payne says.

News from NZ Educational Institute
The NZEI says it intends to take legal action on behalf of education support workers over gender discrimination.

“We welcome the initiative by the country’s midwives to file for court action over pay discrimination. And we’ve also been watching developments in the case of Lower Hutt caregiver Kristine Bartlett who last year won in the Supreme Court against her employers over pay discrimination,” says NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter.

“The Government has been ignoring this human rights issue for far too long and we will now pursue our case through the courts.”

“More than six years ago an independent job evaluation report by the Pay Equity Commission showed that when compared with the male dominated job of corrections officer, education support workers employed by the Ministry of Education were paid as much as $8 an hour less.

“The incoming government sidelined the report, saying the pay issue would be dealt with through bargaining rounds.

“There has been no real movement, and in fact what we’re seeing across the workforce in New Zealand is growing inequity and female-dominated workforces are suffering the most.

“We have given the Government plenty of time to tackle this issue and we will now follow the path of the midwives and Kristine Bartlett, and seek redress through the legal system.”