By Liz Davies, General Manager SociaLink
We seem to get a relentless stream of bad news, so it is heartening to finally hear good news.
An historical decision was made by the Government late last month to pay social workers working in community and iwi organisations the same as their colleagues in Government organisations. They are looking at getting an extra $20-30,000 per year, which makes for a great Christmas present for social workers.
SociaLink undertook a promotional campaign to raise awareness of the pay equity issue so we’re very pleased to see this successful outcome. Our own local Labour MPs have heavily supported this, with Minister Jan Tinetti making the announcement and MP Angie Warren-Clarke supporting this work.
Community and iwi organisations work on the smell of an oily rag and provide essential services to our communities, and they are seeing more and more people with increasingly complex and high needs – mental illness, addictions, foetal alcohol syndrome, family violence, racism, abuse, poverty.
The typical people social workers work with very often have had at least one traumatic event occur in their lives, more commonly multiple traumatic events which compound and impact their physical and mental health. Another term that is commonly used is people living in ‘toxic stress – people who have experienced strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity who are constantly operating in a state of stress.
We know the damage prolonged stress can have on health but when you are operating this way, often surviving on a day-by-day basis, it also significantly limits your ability to think clearly and certainly not long term. I certainly know when I’m stressed my ability to think clearly is significantly impaired, or example when I am doing a presentation and the technology inevitably fails I cannot for the life of me think through what the problem maybe and hence the solution.
Social workers are highly skilled to tautoko or support people in these distressing circumstances, yet were getting not much above the living wage, and struggling to live on their salary. I spoke to a social worker whose colleague had to use the food bank to survive.
People often talk about the vital importance of teachers and nurses. Social workers deserve to be added to this list, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are female-dominated occupations which are traditionally underpaid and overworked.
Ironically, one of the factors driving a lot of the pain for the people social workers work with is poverty, which in turn is partly caused by lack of pay parity for women, Māori, Pasifika and Asian people.
According to the Mind the Gap initiative, compared with the average hourly pay rate of Pākehā men, Pākehā women earn 12 percent less, wahine Māori earn 23 percent less, Pacific women earn 24 percent less, and Asian women earn 17.4 percent less.
New Zealanders have a strong sense of fairness and justice and I think would agree this is in no way fair or just. Let’s celebrate and acknowledge the pay equity for social workers and encourage businesses to report on the pay gap in their workforces as the first step to addressing the pay gaps.