Up until now, the feeling that rugby may be bad for your health has been pretty much limited to concerns about the sometimes cavalier attitude the code has taken towards the risk of concussion. (National MP Mike Saban has been vocal in the past about the concussion issue and rugby’s handling of it.) Yet the All Blacks endorsement of Coca Cola – at a time when there are valid concern about the links between childhood obesity and sugar drinks – is not merely a health issue, important though that may be. Kids do love the All Blacks and yes, they will seek to emulate them, including via the association with the world’s favourite caffeinated sugar drink. The Coke deal is also an interesting example of how untouchable our national icons seem to be.
The free pass that the All Blacks get in commercial matters never fails to amaze. Consider, by contrast, how thoroughly league player Stacey Jones got hauled over the coals a couple of years ago for fronting for a “loan shark” finance company. Even an MP joined in:
Hawkes Bay MP Stuart Nash signed a petition calling for Mr Jones to quit backing the company ahead of the opening. Mr Jones was an icon in the low income areas that were targeted by high interest lenders such as Instant Finance, he said. He claimed its interest rates – which had a top rate of 29.95 per cent in 2010 – made the company [a] loan shark.
“He’s a legend [as a] rugby league player – there’s no doubt about that. But he’s fronting a company that has predatory interest rates. If he’s going to back anyone, back Kiwibank.”
Fair enough. Yet earlier this week, Fairfax carried a story about where All Black legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter (even bigger icons than Stacey Jones) have invested a good chunk of their money: in retirement homes.
Dan Carter and Richie McCaw and other name rugby players have together taken a stake of about 10 per cent in the “boutique” Park Lane Retirement Village, located a few steps from the new AMI Stadium. Stage one of the $80 million Park Lane Retirement Village in Christchurch was opened yesterday by Prime Minister John Key, at a gathering which included Carter and fellow investors All Blacks Andy Ellis and Corey Flynn.
Carter said he had invested in seven retirement villages, including complexes in Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch, drawn in by Ben Hurst, the son of 1970s All Black Ian Hurst, who worked in the sector. Former All Black Greg Somerville was another one of the early investors in the retirement sector.
Other current or former All Blacks sharing in the 10 per cent stake in Park Lane include Kieran Read, Leon MacDonald, Mark Robinson, Aaron Mauger, and former Crusader and now Scottish international Sean Maitland.
Now, it may be that the homes in which McCaw, Carter (and their raft of All Black colleagues) have invested their money also pay stellar wage rates to their employees. They may well be industry leaders when it comes to insisting on skills training and staffing levels. If so, they would be exceptions in a sector that is notorious for extracting stellar profits for the care of the elderly by low paid workers – many of whom are migrants – receiving on or about the minimum wage. The plight of the elderly and of the people who care for them in many of the nation‘s rest homes was well documented in this 2010 report.
Rest homes receive more than $800 million in taxpayer funding each year, yet there is no current requirement on providers to be publicly accountable in the same way public hospitals are. Providers are not required to disclose the number of adverse events that occur in their homes. Nor is there any obligation to publicly account for how taxpayer money is spent. Yet some in the sector are making substantial profits. This lack of accountability and transparency urgently needs to be rectified.
Part of the problem in aged care lies in a relative lack of skills training, in the minimal staffing levels and the low wage structure endemic in the industry:
While we recognise that the overwhelming number of workers in this sector are dedicated to providing excellent care to the elderly, they are severely restricted by staff shortages, low wages, lack of training, and the strict time management requirements of many providers driven by cost cutting and profit margins…Many do the job because they know it matters – but when staffing levels are squeezed, they finish their day knowing they could/should have done a better job, but didn’t have the time…..What’s more, without adequate time taken for each resident, serious adverse events – including falls, pressure ulcers, infections, dehydration or medical misdiagnoses – will happen. More than 9000 residents (in subsidised care) ended up in Accident and Emergency in 2008 (questions for written answer 14577 (2010)) – putting pressure on our already stretched emergency services.
In short….if Carter, McCaw and the rest of the All Blacks involved are prepared to take profits from the aged care sector, would they also be prepared to campaign for better wages, work conditions and skills training? Would they for instance, insist on Living Wage levels of pay as being a condition of the homes in which they invest? That would be a terrific way for them to show leadership, and accountability; and an honourable use of their mana as All Blacks. After all, the funds that current and former All Blacks now have available to invest in this sector have been the product of the appreciation that New Zealanders have shown for their skills and dedication to the game. Surely, and in turn, they must appreciate the skills and dedication being shown by the people who care for our frail and elderly, and would therefore welcome them being paid the Living Wage, at least.
Perhaps no one has ever asked Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and their colleagues to publicly support the push for better wages and conditions in the aged care sector. It is time they were asked. Otherwise, by their silence, they are being complicit in the perpetuation of those conditions, which I’m sure they wouldn’t wish to be. After all, if it was good enough to publicly hold a league player such as Stacey Jones to account for how he makes his money, perhaps our top rugby players should be held to the same high standards about how they use their fame, and invest their fortune.