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MERAS lodges pay equity claim on behalf of midwives

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The union that represents the majority of employed midwives (DHB midwives) has lodged a pay equity claim with DHBs.

Jill Ovens, MERAS Co-leader (Industrial), says the MERAS claim is on behalf of hospital-based midwives, who are paid in a completely different way to self-employed midwives (Lead Maternity Carers or LMCs).

Although there was some money set aside in the Government’s Budget to increase payments for LMCs (self-employed, community based) in response to the New Zealand College of Midwives’ case for pay equity, this did not relate to DHB-employed midwives, whose pay is linked to that of nurses.

"In our MERAS pay equity case, we argue that including midwifery in nursing wage settlements through successive negotiations with DHBs, has negatively affected midwives’ pay," says Ms Ovens.

"Pay equity for employed midwives needs to be considered independently to that of nurses as there are significant differences between the two professional groups in regard to undergraduate qualifications, training programme requirements and scope of practice."

For a number of years before legislative change in 1990, women from consumer advocacy groups were voicing concerns about the impersonal, fragmented and hospital-controlled maternity care provided to expectant mothers in New Zealand.

Their calls for change, and the establishment in 1989 of the New Zealand College of Midwives, were a major influence in the enactment of the Nurses Amendment Act 1990, providing statutory recognition for midwives as "safe and competent practitioners in their own right."

In addition, midwives were given the statutory right to prescribe drugs, order diagnostic tests, and train without prior nursing qualifications.

Caroline Conroy, MERAS co-leader (Midwifery), says the midwifery profession today is largely self-regulated through the Midwifery Council and practitioners enjoy a wide jurisdiction to make professional judgements on their own responsibility.

However, despite all these changes DHB-employed midwives continue to be paid on the same pay scales as nurses, which fails to recognise the scope of practice and responsibilities that midwives have in their day to day work.

"Employed midwives work in primary, secondary and tertiary maternity units. They work closely with their LMC colleagues, complementing and supporting the care that they provide to women and families through a range of hospital and community-based roles," she says.

Ms Ovens says the linking of employed midwives’ pay scales to those of nurses fails to take into account the differences in qualifications and training required to do the job and maintain their standard of care and scope of practice.

"The current wage setting ignores differences in the nature of the work, the responsibilities associated with the work, the conditions under which the work is performed, and the emotional and physical demands of midwifery," she says.

"For example, nursing is a three-year degree; midwifery is a four-year degree with quite different on-going professional requirements."

Ms Ovens say MERAS is keen to progress discussions on its pay equity claim now that it has been lodged.

"This provides employed midwives with the opportunity to get the recognition they deserve," she says.

MERAS is affiliated with the New Zealand College of Midwives and the two will work closely together on the pay equity claim.

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