A Wellington registered nurse has made an impassioned plea at Parliament in support of pay equity legislation, saying it was time for nurses to be at the front of the queue.
Katrina Hopkinson, a nurses union delegate at Wellington Hospital, said her work was undervalued and underpaid and was having negative effects on her family, her community and New Zealand.
"Pay equity for me would make a big difference in our family. We have been living in overcrowded conditions in a leaky house for the past six years," she told reporteres after speaking to MPs.
"I'm a registered qualified, experienced, skilled ... I'm a really good nurse. I run a unit, a critical care unit. I look after 18 staff, 80 admissions and discharges. I should be able to afford warm, dry housing. I should be able to afford groceries. I shouldn't have to do an overtime shift for a winter power bill. That's the reality.
"I want my colleagues to be able to see a dentist annually. I want my colleagues to be able to afford housing inside Wellington city. That's what [pay equity] means to us."
She has been a nurse for 12 years and has a nursing degree. In a job that is 0.75 per cent of a full-time job she made about $66,000 last year.
The doctors she worked with got 30 days' sick leave a year. She got 7.5 including domestic leave.
"We have been waiting far too long for a pay equity settlement," she said.
"It's our turn at the front of the queue."
MPs are hearing submissions on the Equal Pay Amendment Bill, which sets out the principles and processes by which pay equity claims can be made in occupational groups which are historically underpaid because they are dominated by women.
Hopkinson was among the Nurses Organisation submitters.
Many nurses had to work extra shifts and overtime just to make ends meet, she said.
"That means we are away from home a lot, and we are not able to care for our families, our elderly and our children.
"We are not able to be there for things like sports on the weekends. We are unable to participate in society like people in other professions do."
She said banks in Wellington told nurses they should leave the profession if they wanted to get a home loan.
"How can it be that we, who are bright, educated and qualified professionals, can't participate in society the way others can or even afford to live in the areas where we work?"
She said people needed to get over the view that nursing was "sacrificial" women's work.
"Like a lot of people I see my job as a vocation, but it's important professional work for which I have studied to become qualified. I have a sizeable student loan like any other graduate and I pay the same for bread, milk, petrol, clothes and tradesman as everybody else.
"There's no discount at Countdown because we are a nice nurse.
"My children look at the situation and wonder why I would do it. It's not a job that is attractive to them and that's a real problem. If we don't start paying nurses equitably, who is going to want to do it? Who is going to nurse us?"
Nurses won a significant pay claim with District Health Boards last year, 12 per cent to 15 per cent on basic rates, and they are at the earlier stages of negotiating a pay equity pay claim with the State Services Commission.