30 May 2017 – New Zealand’s 50,000 care and support workers accepted a $2 billion negotiated equal pay settlement from the Government in April. Karen Gregory-Hunt of the E tū union explains the difference it will make in one woman’s life.
THREE YEARS ago, Moana Witehira began working with intellectual disability provider, IDEA Services in Whangarei – and quickly realised she had found her niche.
Moana works one on one with a woman with autism as part of her role as a senior vocational support worker. She helps develop the skills of the people she works with and ensures they lead meaningful lives in the community.
“I get to do different things every day which I know has an awesome impact on the people we support,” says Moana.
“It’s tough – it’s one of the hardest jobs that I’ve ever had. But I love my job. I love the people I support with a passion.
“They make me smile going to work and that’s why I’ve been going to work on such a low wage because their smiles just brighten up my day and I feel like I’m doing something good for the community. “
Until recently, Moana who has a Level 3 qualification, earned less than $18 an hour. Her promotion to a senior vocational worker bumped her pay to $19.28 an hour. The Equal Pay settlement will lift her wage to $23.50 an hour – which she says will transform her life and that of many of her workmates.
“I won’t have to stress so much to pay my bills, because I’ll have the extra income. Things will be less of a struggle. I’ll be able to afford to go on holiday. It will mean a lot for my workmates too. I don’t do overtime but my workmates do, if they don’t have kids and they want to make more money, it means they won’t have to work 100 plus hours a fortnight. People do that all the time. They always have to pick up extra hours.”
Moana is adamant the settlement will also be hugely beneficial for her autism clients, by reducing staff turnover and providing more stability and routine, which people with autism, like her female client, need.
“She’s highly anxious, especially when it comes to changes in her routine, and that includes staffing,” says Moana.
“She can have behaviours where she hurts others when she has staff changes. So the equal pay settlement will have lots of benefits for people with autism. At the moment, we go through a lot of staff and I think that’s due to pay,” she says.
Moana says people with autism are also very quick to pick up on issues like stress.
“I believe the equal pay settlement will target the right people for the right job, because at the moment we’re offering minimum wage pretty much. And because we’re going to have a better pay rate very shortly, we’ll see a lot of good going back to the people we support – because obviously, we’ll be getting paid what we deserve and that will cause a lot less stress in our lives and we’re going to better support our people.
“I think people with autism can feel that; that’s a part of how they are. They know the people’s vibes that they’re working with. That’s how they kind of feel and react to people and read their body language. If the people caring for them are stressed, it’s my experience they can pick up on that and that can cause them to have anxieties and behaviours.
“Happy staff, happy clients,” says Moana.
“People with autism really rely on routine to cope with everyday things and I really do believe that this will target the right people for the right job.”
- Karen Gregory-Hunt is the communications officer for E tū, a union representing thousands of people who work in eight industries including Community Support.
This article first appeared in the Altogether Autism Journal issue 2, 2017.