A pay equity claim on behalf of mental health support workers will today be lodged with the Employment Relations Authority.

New pay rates take effect on July 1 for 55,000 workers in Government-funded aged care, home support and disability sectors because of an historic pay equity settlement.

However, community mental health support workers aren't included - spurring today's claim from the Public Service Association (PSA) and E tu unions.

E tu member and claimant Vicki Harmon said mental health support workers were in "turmoil".


"People are leaving mental health services in droves and who wouldn't?" Harmon said.

"We've had so many people leave our organisation for other disability providers and we're exhausted doing the extra work. It's a struggle to fill the rosters and everyone is knackered."

The claim will cover people employed by community mental health providers, not direct district health board employees. There are roughly 4000 to 5000 in this category, and pay increases as provided under the Bartlett settlement will be sought.

Similar claims for workers in female-dominated industries are likely to be lodged in the coming months.

Pollyanna Alo, PSA claimant and mental health committee member, said workers were undervalued because they work in a traditionally female-dominated industry.

"We're highly qualified, and we work under intense pressure and stress right at the heart of our communities trying to address serious mental health issues like suicide."

E tu assistant national secretary John Ryall said the unions were seeking urgency from the ERA in hearing the claim because the July 1 increases for other support workers will "cause a crisis" in the sector.

The settlement for aged care, home support and disability sector workers came after the Service Workers' Union (now E tu) took a court case on behalf of rest home worker Kristine Bartlett.

It will lift her own pay from about $15.75 an hour to $23.50. By the end of five years, that will have increased to $27 an hour, a total increase of 71 per cent.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said the parties to that settlement agree that it will not be used as a precedent for other occupational groups.

"The question of the scope of the settlement was a big part of the negotiations. The reality is the line had to be drawn somewhere and there is always an element of compromise in any negotiations of this scale. Settlement parties - including unions - agreed to the scope of the settlement."

Coleman said in November last year the Government announced pay equity principles, and the Equal Pay Amendment Bill to be progressed this year will establish a process for groups to resolve pay equity claims through bargaining rather than the courts.

"So if there are other claims, and there's a number of groups talking about it at the moment, then they will be dealt with according to the principles of the pay equity legislation rather than by direct negotiation in this case."

Labour leader Andrew Little said such claims highlighted the low wages paid to many workers in New Zealand.

"The pay equity legislation will help some, and the settlement achieved for the aged care workers will help some, but, actually, there is a wider problem. We have a ways to go in a whole heap of sectors."