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Aged Care: The Price of Compassion

16 November 2012 17 comments

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Rest home care workers are amongst the lowest paid in the country. At around $14-$15 an hour, they are paid a pittance for the important work they do; caring for aged New Zealanders in the twilight of their lives. They tend to our parents and grandparents, keeping them safe, clean, and offering human  companionship at a time when many elderly have less and less contact with the community.

On 1 March of this year, rest home workers went on strike, campaigning to raise their wages from the pathetic $14.61 an hour they were being being. The following pics were of striking rest home workers in Upper Hutt,

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1 march 2012 - striking rest home workers - SFWU - Nurses Organisation - Upper Hutt - Elderslea

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1 march 2012 - striking rest home workers - SFWU - Nurses Organisation - Upper Hutt - Elderslea

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1 march 2012 - striking rest home workers - SFWU - Nurses Organisation - Upper Hutt - Elderslea

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1 march 2012 - striking rest home workers - SFWU - Nurses Organisation - Upper Hutt - Elderslea

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See previous blogpost: 1 March – No Rest for Striking Workers!

A month and a half later, Ryman Healthcare – one of the largest providers for aged care in New Zealand – announced a record $84 million profit, for the year ending 31 March 2012. This  was  an increase of  17% on the previous financial year.

For ten years in a row,  Ryman had posted  record profits. Quite clearly this industry is not short of a ‘bob or three’.

Chairman Dr David Kerr said “the company faced some major challenges in Christchurch over the past 18 months given the earthquakes, and had responded with a performance which had exceeded its own targets “.

See: Record profit for Ryman

So obviously productivity was not a problem for Ryman.  A 17% increase in products – in an otherwise stagnant economy and continuing global financial downturn – shows that the aged care industry is doing very nicely.

On 28 May, Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor, did something that few office-bound  state sector workers do; she went undercover to discover for herself what kind of working conditions rest care workers put up with for $14.61 an hour,

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Full Story

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As Dr McGregor stated,

The complexity of the job was actually a surprise for me. It’s quite physical work, and it’s emotionally draining because you are obliged to give of yourself to other people.  Saint-like women do it every day so that older New Zealanders can have a quality of life.

I’m not sure if I could have. I’m not sure I had the physical stamina and I didn’t want to hurt someone.

On any given shift you would be in charge of six, seven older people, and you would have to wake them, get them up, get them showered, get them toileted, feed them, and the whole time you were conscious that you had another five to go on your shift. It’s like working constantly to deadline.

The reliance of New Zealand, of all of us, on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-14 an hour is a form of modern-day slavery,” she said in the report.

It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.”

See: Ibid

National’s Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew replied,

It is important that we take this seriously, that we look at it carefully and we look at what we are doing and what we can do before we provide a considered response.”

However, Dear Leader Key would have none of that, and firmly squashed any suggestion of paying rest home care workers decent wages.  Only a few hours after Jo Goodhew announced that this was a problem demanding that “ we look at it carefully “, her boss stated bluntly,

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Full story

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So there we have it. According to Dear Leader,

It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash.”

Falling in line,   Goodhew, conceded that whilst aged care workers were paid at  “lower end“,  she  rejected suggestions that they were being exploited,

I personally don’t believe we should be describing it as modern-day slavery.”

See: Ibid

Gosh, that’s ‘big’ of her. It’s not “ modern-day slavery “.

I wonder what she’d call it?

Especially when it was announced todat that Lo! And Behold! Ryman had posted yet another profit!?!? This time a record half-yearly profit (from 1 April),

The company added another notch to its 10-year sharemarket performance of climbing profits by posting a record half-year profit after tax of $69 million. Its share price rose 6 cents to close at $4.14.

Shareholders will receive an 18 per cent higher dividend for the half-year of 4.6 cents a share. All up, about $23 million in dividends is going to shareholders in the first half. “

See: Ryman plans cautious Aussie debut

Since listing in June 1999, Ryman Healthcare has delivered its shareholders a total return, which includes share price appreciate and dividends, of 1,043%, or 24.3%pa. By cracking the 1000% mark (i.e. returning 10 times the original investment) brokers will, with a good deal of admiration, refer to Ryman as a’10-bagger’.”  – Craigs Investment Partners

Wouldn’t it be nice if the $23 million being paid to shareholders was  instead paid  to the care workers who actually did the hard work?

Who is it that looks after granny and/or grandad – the “Saint-like women do it every day so that older New Zealanders can have a quality of life“?

Or some shareholders sitting on their arses and sipping  chardonnay?

Here’s a thought for Middle Zealand, politicians, and Ryman shareholders; the course of  Nature will not be deviated. Every one of us is growing older.

(You can see where I’m heading with this.)

There will come a time when Middle Zealand, politicians, and Ryman shareholders, and the rest of us will eventually require the services of aged care facilities.

Do we really want to be cared for by underpaid workers who may eventually give up any semblance of dedication to their job, and lose any measure of empathy for  aged folk in their charge? That rest home workers may finally one days have a gutsful of being exploited?

If we want to be treated well in our twilight years – shouldn’t we first be looking after those workers who will be caring for us?

John Key sez that paying rest home care workers is “one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash“.

Rubbish. The money is there.

It’s just going to the wrong people.

C’mon New Zealand – sort it out!

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Previous related blogposts

1 March – No Rest for Striking Workers! (1 March 2012)

No Rest for the Wicked (23 March 2012)

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash” (28 May 2012)

Roads, grandma, and John Key (18 July 2012)

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers (11 November 2012)

Sources

Record profit for Ryman (17 May 2012)

PM: No money for aged care workers (28 May 2012)

Resthome spy hails saint-like workers (28 May 2012)

Ryman plans cautious Aussie debut (16 Nov 2012)

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