Budget will include money for midwives, but maybe not enough

Midwives have joined nurses, mental health, and aged care workers in demanding pay equity, image from a 2017 demonstration by First Union. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Government has given a strong indication that funding for pay equity agreements will be included in the upcoming Budget, due to be delivered on May 17.

The news came as midwives marched to Parliament on Thursday demanding pay equity. The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about the midwives protest at a lunch for Business New Zealand later that day.

“I can say, I’ve heard them,” Ardern said.

“I am acutely aware of the issues our midwives are facing and have heard for some time now the challenges that exist particularly around parity for midwives depending on where in the sector they are working it is something we are looking to confront and we’ll have more to say on that as we get to the Budget,” she said.

Ardern was quick to manage expectations, saying that she couldn’t “do everything at once,” but that, “midwives are one of the many issues in the health sector that we have to address”.

“We’re doing our best to address them as much as we can in one of three budgets where we will be looking to rebuild health services,” she said.

Later, Health Minister David Clark repeated Ardern’s hint.

“This is a Government that is determined to deal with the situation we have inherited and in our first Budget take first steps towards addressing that historic underfunding,” Clark said.

“It’s well-known that we want to make sure that workforces in the health sector are sustainable funded,” he said.

There were no hints as to how far the Government would go to address the pay equity claims. The historic pay equity settlement for aged care workers, which came into effect last year covers 55, 000 workers cost $2 billion, a number so large it had a marked impact on the Labour Cost Index, which measures wage inflation.

Midwives may have to manage their expectations. In an interview with TVNZ’s Corin Dann at the weekend, Clark hosed down expectations about a swift pay equity agreement for nurses.

Nurses are currently negotiating a pay round with the DHBs. A move towards pay equity was included in the DHB’s most recent offer, but it was rejected by nurses.

“They should be getting pay equity, but there is a process to work through to work out how we do that,” Clark said.

But Clark also said that there was a “backlog of underfunding” and said again that not everything could be addressed in the Government’s first Budget, again implying pay equity on terms acceptable to those in the sector would not be on the cards this Budget.