The 2021 Midwives Strike: Pay Equity Issues in New Zealand
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The 2021 Midwives Strike: Pay Equity Issues in New Zealand
Although New Zealand established the foundations to amending gender pay inequalities about fifty years ago, many women in the country are still reported to endure gender-based pay differentials. The government of New Zealand often premised economic and employment reforms to ensure future gains but most of the reforms were not delivered (Parker & Donnelly, 2020). Moreover, some public policy changes were enacted in some of the sectors within the economy but still, there is a prevalence of skill shortages, low wages, and low productivity growth. Despite the many studies and reports concerning gender-based pay differentials, labor market issues are still being reported as well as a lack of consensus on employment relations concerning broadly based solutions.
Key Issues on Pay Equity Debate and Available Research
Like other workers in New Zealand’s healthcare sector, midwives were promised a deal on “pay equity” which was not part of their employment agreement. According to the unions and government of New Zealand, this deal will considerably increase the midwives’ pay to levels relative to professions dominated by men with the same responsibilities (New Zealand Nurses Organisation, 2021). Decades after this deal was promised, it is still under negotiation and whether or not it will lead to a considerable pay increase is not clear. Another major concern for midwives such as doctors and nurses is the low staffing levels in healthcare institutions placing both patients and workers alike at risk. About two years ago, midwives decided to protest over deteriorating conditions and low pay. The factor that persuaded the midwives to settle for the 3% per year minimal pay increase in addition to back-pay and lump sums was the Midwifery Workforce Accord that the government and MERAS signed (New Zealand Nurses Organisation , 2021). According to Peters (2021), the government of New Zealand made promises to improve training, retention, and midwives’ recruitment. But since then, the staffing situation has worsened. Peters (2021) reported that there are thirty three vacant positions in the maternity services of Wellington region. That is approximately 1 in 4 jobs, there are approximately two hundred vacancies countrywide.
The rally held in Wellington had several midwives and some supporters addressing the crowd in a quest for better staffing and pay. One of the protesters stated that a barista earns much more than a recently graduated midwife. Considering that midwives are responsible for lives, they have a huge responsibility which does not reflect in their pay. The escalating struggles that workers go highlights the new to create new organizations: rank-and-file committees, every party in parliament, and politically independent unions. In a research study by Thomas (2021), these committees should not accept the lie that fixing the crisis that the healthcare sector is facing is too expensive for the government to afford. Thomas (2021) states that this committee should seek to connect healthcare workers with workers in education sector, public transport, and other areas facing understaffing, low wages, and deteriorating conditions. The Socialist Equality Group is calling on workers in New Zealand to fight for socialist programs that would urgently prepare the country’s system of healthcare. Such programs would address the existing needs of healthcare workers and would also help to withstand outbreaks of diseases in the future. Peters (2021) states that the government should redirect the billions of dollars directed to the wealthy in society in the form of quantitative easing, bailouts, and tax cuts to build new hospitals, repair crumbling infrastructure, and employ more workers in the healthcare sector.
The findings of a study conducted by Parker & Donnelly (2020) found that historically and relatively, the current gender pay gap in New Zealand is small. But despite the progress that the government has apparently made, the gap has not closed fully which signals an ongoing discrepancies between men’s and women’s experience of paid work (Parker & Donnelly, 2020). As highlighted by an analysis conducted by Zorn (2020), the regulatory changes that the government enacts overtime do not always have an impact on pay equity in a progressive and unidirectional fashion. Whereas national laws remain significant overtime to address and evade issues involving pay equity, institutional mechanisms have emphasized pay equity application in workplaces vary in character, impact, and extent amid dynamic conditions. Zorn (2020) states that this is an indication of the need for a close context-sensitive examination and equity aims conceptualization and perpetual pursuit.
The ministry of health through the Health Minister announced that negotiation should commence between district health boards and healthcare workers. The negotiation should involve overdue pay equity claims which according to the minister, is expected to cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars (Thomas, 2021). In addition, the Ministry of Health stated that the pay equity claim that the government launched three years ago aimed to correct all pay discrimination based on gender. In addition, the Cabinet approved the mandate for funding negotiation by the board to meet the agreement cost. After negotiation, the pay equity agreement would be the most significant settlement of pay equity ever seen in New Zealand (Thomas, 2021). The Minister of Health acknowledged that midwives are being underpaid and it is the reason the Health Ministry agrees to meet pay equity. First, the officials were instructed to confirm any possible undervaluation based on the health workers’ gender and then find comparable jobs, after which the equity gap should be quantified.
The second proposed solution by the Ministry of Health is the intention of the government to hire additional health workers. The number of workers that hold yearly practicing certificates has increased by about 10% since 2017 (Thomas, 2021). Based on the current number of healthcare workers, it is projected to grow to over 63,400 in 2021 and to over 64,600 by end of next year.
The priority of the Health Ministry is to lift the wages of the lowest paid midwives. The government can achieve the lifting of wages by settling the equal pay claims (New Zealand Nurses Organisation , 2021). This must happen as soon as possible and the achieved settlement should be maintained. That way, similar positions occupied by males in the private sectors not subject to pay restraint do not leave them behind and end up widening the gender pay gap once more. Midwives deeply care about their wellbeing, equity issues, and workload. The government is expected to address such issues and parties can reach agreeable solutions.
New Zealand Nurses Organisation . (2021, August 17th). Nurses withdraw strike action after lockdown declared. https://www.nzno.org.nz/resources/policy_analyses_and_reports/pid/4779/ev/1/categoryid/20/categoryname/industrial-action
Parker, J., & Donnelly, N. (2020). The revival and refashioning of gender pay equity in New Zealand. Journal of Industrial Relations, 62(4), 560-581.
Peters, T. (2021, August 15th). New Zealand midwives strike over low pay and understaffing. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/08/16/nzmi-a16.html
Thomas, B. W. (2021, August 17th). Nurses, hospital midwives call off strikes after Covid-19 lockdown announced. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/300384513/nurses-hospital-midwives-call-off-strikes-after-covid19-lockdown-announced
Zorn, R. (2020, October 19th). Nurses and health workers agree to keep moving. nzno.org.nz: https://www.nzno.org.nz/resources/policy_analyses_and_reports/pid/4779/ev/1/categoryid/27/categoryname/pay-equity