Mental health worker pay crisis

Predictably, when pay rates were increased substantially for 55,000 care workers, this has put a strain on other sectors. Mental health care workers were not included in the settlement, and difficulties in retention of mental health workers is being described as a crisis.

Mental health services were already under serious pressure before this added to the problems caused by increasing health care being sought.

RNZ: Union ‘totally shocked’ at mental health pay equity warning


The Ministry of Health has written to district health boards telling them not to pay their mental health workers the same as aged-care and disability support staff.

The letter is a blow to those left out of the recent $2 billion pay equity settlement boosting the wages of 55,000 aged-care and disability workers.

The document, leaked to Checkpoint with John Campbell, tells DHB chief executives any top-up payments to mental health support providers would risk breaching the Public Finance Act.

It seeks confirmation that DHBs “do not intend to provide such funding, or will cease if any initial payment has been made”.

The pay equity settlement – announced by Prime Minister Bill English in April – increased wages for workers providing aged and residential care, but not for workers in mental health support.

Since then, the mental health sector has been reporting a loss of existing workers and difficulty attracting new ones.

One DHB told Checkpoint that the sector faced catastrophe if workers could not be retained.

Public Service Association (PSA) assistant national secretary Kerry Davies called the ministry’s letter “outrageous”.

“I’m totally shocked at that. I just cannot understand why the MOH [Ministry of Health] would do that,” she said.

“Why they would put a limit on what DHBs can fund and also what NGOs can actually pay mental health support workers.”

Platform Trust chief executive Marion Blake said mental health support workers currently earned $16-19 an hour, while those working in aged and residential care now received $19-23.50 an hour – or about 20 percent more.

The pay gap was beginning to have a serious impact, Ms Blake said.

“They’re losing staff at a time when we need mental health and addiction [support providers] to be as strong as they possibly can,” she said.

“Not only are people leaving the mental health services or have indicated that they will be leaving, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to recruit people, because people can be paid a higher wage – sometimes as much as $6 an hour difference – by going to work in the disability services.”

There have been follow up interviews on RNZ this morning about this.

Minister of Health:

Reports aren’t available online yet.

See also Govt gives details for $100m mental health spend (announced in the budget in May).

And last month:  Figures reveal under-staffing of mental health sector

New information shows the extent of the country’s shortage of psychiatrists and mental health workers.

Figures released to Nine to Noon showed there were 55 vacancies for psychiatrists in the country’s hospitals, nearly 100 unfilled nurse positions in acute mental health wards and just under 40 unfilled jobs in crisis assessment teams in mid-May.


  1. Now watch the smaller care centers fold because they can’t pay their staff the new rates

    • Gezza

       /  August 15, 2017

      Clearly they’re being underfunded by government.

      • PDB

         /  August 15, 2017

        Clearly though they deserved a pay rise the pay rise was too high for the industry who in many cases are finding it hard to pass the additional cost onto its consumers.

  2. Tipene

     /  August 15, 2017

    No, they are not being underfunded by Govt.

    The service providers simply can’t prove that what they are doing is working, and under the Community Investment Approach, that’s grounds to shut up shop.

    The solution is really, really simple.

    * Measure outcomes, and give the money to those services who achieve the best results.

    * Move from a horizontal priority model to a vertical priority model, whereby funding is tiered to outcome (no more of this “level playing field” nonsense).

    * Use the savings made from trying to fund dozens and dozens of longitudinally useless mental health services to increase the wages and salaries of the staff and organisations who can deliver excellent outcomes.

    * Eliminate the artificial barrier between public and private service – it doesn’t matter who does it better – just give the money to those who can get the job done.

  3. Blazer

     /  August 15, 2017

    mental health is still largely an unexplored …universe.