Finding a better balance. The role of migrant workers in the aged-care sector

Salvation Army | St Andrew's Village
Publication date:

New Zealand’s aging population—and in particular the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation—poses a number of challenges. Three important ones are around the future labour force, the growing need for aged care, and the required taxation to fund this care. These problems are, of course, inter-related in that the working-age population that makes up the majority of the workforce will need to both provide the labour and taxes to care for the elderly. Current population projections suggest that over the next 20 years the working age population will grow only slowly, if at all.

There does not appear to have been a great deal of thought given to the immediate and future implications of these challenges. There is certainly no short-term or even medium-term plan for the provision of aged-care services despite the fact that future demand for such care can be easily forecast. Given this lack of overall planning for aged-care services insufficient provision has been made for future workforce requirements to provide this care.

This lack of interest in the future requirements for aged care and the people who provide this care is already having an impact on service provision around the commercial viability of aged care providers and the difficulties they are having in recruiting staff. This is visible in the recent closure of more than 15 small residential aged-care facilities and ongoing problems remaining providers are having in recruiting New Zealand citizens and residents to positions, especially as healthcare assistants.

This latter point—recruitment of citizens and residents as health care assistants—has driven the need to employ temporary migrants in their thousands into these positions. A recent survey of five major residential aged-care providers in Auckland found that more than one-quarter of their healthcare assistants were working on temporary so-called ‘Essential Skills’ migrant visas.

There are at least three difficulties with this arrangement. Firstly, it is not fair on the workers involved, mainly because they remain in New Zealand on a sequence of short-term visas but are never able to settle here and feel as though they belong. This is often despite the fact that they have made an economic and social contribution to New Zealand life, sometimes for more than a decade. Secondly, this arrangement is not entirely fair to the residents and patients cared for by these migrant workers. In general, the standard of care offered by these workers and the facilities in which they work in is excellent. However, the ongoing standard of care is under threat if the emerging shortage for skilled healthcare assistants is not addressed. This leads to a third difficulty: these skills and labour shortages are about to be exacerbated by recent changes in immigration policy.

This paper is offered by St Andrew’s Retirement Village and The Salvation Army’s Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit to highlight these difficulties and suggest changes that we believe will be more than just for the migrant workers concerned and also provide a sounder basis for providing residential aged-care services. These changes are recommended to an immediate audience of central government politicians and their policy advisers. A secondary, but by no means second-thought audience is the New Zealand public, many of whom we believe are concerned about the injustices within our current migration policies as well as the current unmet challenges around aged-care services.

Last updated: 2017-12-05