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Back 1 September 2015

Historic Bill of Rights Case filed in New Zealand High Court

“We have been left with no choice.” That from Karen Guilliland, the Chief Executive of the New Zealand College of Midwives, as the organisation prepares to file a pay parity discrimination case on the basis of gender under the NZ Bill of Rights Act in the High Court.

The College of Midwives says the midwifery-led system in New Zealand has improved the outcomes for women and their babies to the extent that it is a world leader in maternity care and it has never been safer to be born. Despite this however the LMC Midwife is paid the equivalent of someone considered unskilled, semi-skilled or junior staff. This is untenable and must be urgently addressed.

Ms Guilliland says mother and babies will be disadvantaged if the Ministry of Health does not pay attention to the needs of midwives to have a level of income that enables them to provide quality care. 99.9% of the midwives affected are women. Fair remuneration, professional support and recognition of the almost exclusively female community midwife Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) workforce has been lacking for many years. The Ministry of Health’s underfunding and lack of supportive frameworks for midwives is now seriously threatening the viability of community maternity based care.

“Even more concerning it has started to impact on the midwife LMC’s ability to provide women with the services they have come to expect and deserve over the last 25 years. This case is not only about pay equity for a female workforce: it is also about protecting future mothers and babies and sustaining the midwifery workforce that provides them with the majority of their maternity care,” she adds.

The responsibilities and workload of LMC midwives have increased significantly since 1993 when we fought for ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ to the Maternity Benefits Tribunal and won.

LMC midwives are paid set fees by the Ministry of Health via Section 88 Notice (Maternity Payment Schedule) but since 2007 there have been only two small fee increases to the Notice that have not even covered inflation. “Neither fee increase recognised the huge increase in the scope of duties and responsibilities of midwives and the fact they are working with women and babies with far more complexity,” says Ms Guilliland.

“Midwives haven’t been paid properly since 1996, so this claim has been about 20 years in the making. This year the Ministry is only allocating $2.1 million as a fee increase for payments available for approximately 1000 LMC midwives and over 52,000 mothers and babies. This equates to around $41 extra per birth. This for a 7-9 month, 24 hour on-call personal service and it is not going to address the need for a sustainable income,” she says. “It is the last straw.

The Ministry of Health cannot continue to ignore and undervalue its female workforces and the thousands of mums and babies that rely on our midwives. Other countries look to New Zealand as an example of what a safe and effective maternity system looks like. However there is a real risk of losing this system that works so well for women and their babies if a financially unsustainable payment system means we can’t recruit and retain our LMC workforce,” says Ms Guilliland. 

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