E tū congratulates the Labour Party and the Green Party for their respective victories after the preliminary results of General Election 2020.
While the official count is yet to come, Labour have won enough votes to govern alone, and the Greens are back in with more MPs than last term.
E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says the result is great for workers in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“The Labour and Green parties went into the election campaign with strong policies for workers.
“We congratulate both parties for this result, and in particular, would like to congratulate E tū leader Ibrahim Omer who has been elected as the first African MP to Parliament.”
Annie say the key policies for workers include Fair Pay Agreements, the Living Wage for workers employed by contractors in the state sector, and doubling the minimum sick leave entitlement.
“We calling for Labour’s workplace relations policies to be part of their commitments in the first 100 days.
“We expect them to move quickly on Fair Pay Agreements, which will transform the New Zealand workforce by providing industry standards for many of the country’s most vulnerable workers.”
E tū will continue to put pressure on the Government to deliver for workers and will hold them to account, Annie says.
“We have made more than 13,000 calls to E tū members and have engaged with parties and candidates throughout the campaign to ensure our issues are front and centre.
“We have high expectations for this Government. The election has given them one of the clearest mandates for progressive transformation in living memory.”
information and comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340
E tū is calling on the country’s only oil refinery to rethink their proposal to cut jobs from their maintenance and emergency teams.
Around 100 workers in total, including those from maintenance, instrument technician, electrical, and emergency services teams could go at Refining New Zealand in Marsden Point, as part of a proposal given to workers on 6 October.
The possible cuts include around a quarter of the small essential maintenance team and almost 50% of the refinery’s emergency services team, which E tū says will increase the risk to workers and the surrounding community alike.
A worker, who remains anonymous, says safety is a big concern.
“The company don’t seem to realise or care how unsafe [things are] becoming because of a lack of maintenance. The reductions in numbers will make it worse.”
E tū organiser Annie Tothill says there is no evidence so far to show that maintenance work has reduced and getting rid of workers will simply place more pressure on those who remain.
“There is a gaping hole for risks if you reduce these already-small teams, as workers may suffer fatigue due to excessive hours and increased stress levels,” she says.
“The proposal to cut the emergency services team to only one worker per shift is also deeply concerning, as it means they would be mostly working alone, including on a night shift.
“This group not only provides assistance at the refinery but is also a recognised local industrial brigade in the region, and trains volunteers and other Fire Emergency personnel from around New Zealand.”
Annie says the refinery is classed as a top-tier high-hazard facility, and so the company must consult with the community and regional council on proposed changes around health and safety, including emergency functions.
“They have so far provided no evidence or modelling to support their proposal and have no plan to consult with communities yet.
“As long as the refinery continues to operate, we need to continue to invest in the community to ensure decent, safe working conditions, and a top-tier community and national resource, while also considering any future ‘Just Transition’ plan for this group of highly skilled workers.”
information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934
By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū
Not long after the formation of E tū in 2015, I was asked by an ex-EPMU staff member about the meaning of the term “member organiser”, which he had heard me talk about.
I told him that a member organiser was a union member who had volunteered to carry out union organising work on worksites other than his or her own site.
The conversation was full of questions about how members got to volunteer, would they be paid for their time, did they have the skills to organise and would this undermine the work that was clearly contained in the role of a full-time salaried union organiser.
The conversation forced me to consider that perhaps my history in the Service and Food Workers Union in the 25 years since the Employment Contracts Act had not been a shared experience of others in the New Zealand labour movement.
My entrance into the union movement was as a delegate-activist and then plant union convenor in the car assembly industry in the Hutt Valley.
The car industry was big and was full of activists who taught me the skills of collective organising, running meetings, disputes and strikes, and winning good working conditions while much of the time battling the interference from the full-time officials in my own union.
This experience carried over to my employment in the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union in the 1980s, which was being transformed (as it was in Auckland) by a group of new full-time organisers who had learnt their skills in the workplace, in community struggles or in feminist organisations.
Small night quarterly union meetings were replaced with large paid union stop-work meetings, the number of workplace delegates increased massively, union education took off and the formation of activist groups for Maori, Pasifika and Women members commenced.
All this activity led to major gains for union members and more confidence amongst delegates and members to confront their own employer and contact other delegates and members in other workplaces to spread the gains that they had made.
This came to a grinding halt in 1991, although the storm clouds had been gathering for about three years before then.
The ECA Shock
The National Government’s 1991 Employment Contracts Act was the most radical piece of industrial legislation ever introduced in New Zealand. Its professed aim was “to promote an efficient labour market” but its real goals, according to most commentators at the time, was to force wages down and to break the unions.
Some commentators at the time predicted that the Act would quickly increase segmentation between the primary and secondary labour markets, with those in the secondary labour markets (clerical, hospitality, service-type jobs) left without rights and deteriorating employment conditions, while those in the primary labour market working in the state sector or in larger worksites hardly noticing any change.
This is what largely happened although the changes brought about by the Employment Contracts Act were more far-reaching than had been envisaged.
Union density declined from 41.5% in May 1991 to 19.9% in December 1996, the Clerical Workers Union and the Communication and Energy Workers Unions both collapsed and other unions amalgamated quickly to stave off their own demise.
The day before the Employment Contracts Act was passed, most of the unions that made up the Service Workers Federation amalgamated into a new Service Workers Union of Aotearoa (most of the regional Hotel and Hospital Workers Unions, Cleaners and Caretakers Unions, Musicians Unions, the Northern Dental Assistants Union and the Theatrical Workers Union). They were joined reasonably quickly by the Northland and Southland Clerical Workers Unions and the Community Services Union.
In May 1991, the estimated number of actual financial members of the new Service Workers Union of Aotearoa was 69,000 or 50,000 FTE, but by December 1992 it had dropped by 50% down to 25,000 FTE.
In the year ending January 1993, a serious financial deficit was sustained by the Service Workers Union and by March 1993 the union was struggling with no cash reserves and having to lay off more than 30% of the union’s staff, which included the National Secretary and two other organisers, who luckily won parliamentary seats and saved the union redundancy compensation payments.
Responding to the crisis
Change often does not happen without a crisis occurring. In 1993, all of the elements were present for change to occur in the Service Workers Union.
Unions were trying all sorts of strategies to weather the effects of the Employment Contracts Act from partnership with employers, to further amalgamations and to beefing up member benefits systems.
The Service Workers Union, which had flattened its operational structure with its redundancy programme in 1993, decided to organise its way out of the crisis.
It had looked at the experience of organising in de-regulated labour markets and decided to formally adopt what was called “the organising model”.
While it came with a new title, the organising model was not new to many people in the Service Workers Union, especially those who came from community or wider movement-based organising backgrounds.
However, it did involve a conscious resolve to change the way that the union operated from a dependence on 50 full-time organisers to do all the work, to liberating the resources contained within the union’s 25,000-plus members to share the organising challenge.
At that time, the union was totally swamped in the re-negotiation of hundreds of site-based collective agreements, trying to maintain regular worksite visiting to recruit membership and relying on paid union staff to resolve member grievances through legal or formal processes. The more success organisers had in solving existing member grievances, the more members bombarded them to solve even more individual issues. Meanwhile, the union membership was declining and the number of full-time staff doing the work was becoming smaller.
The organising model tried to break this cycle by taking the reliance off paid staff and emphasising a union based on active members who were encouraged and supported to take responsibility for solving their own and the collective’s problems and to extend union membership through organising both on and off their worksites.
The organising model was seen by some unionists as a narrow solution to make unions financially viable (more unpaid organisers), but essentially it was really about building real membership and ownership of the union as a vehicle, not just for self-interested ends, but for social justice and greater power for the whole of the working class.
Although a move to a more organising union focus did meet some resistance internally from union staff, the Service Workers Union, from 1996 under the leadership of new National Secretary Darien Fenton, vigorously pursued a change process that included building a stronger foundation of union member leadership, taking the debate about organising and union change to the membership, freeing up resources for new organising and growth and campaigning across workplaces and in the community for better outcomes for working families.
“Taking the debate to members” involved having a meeting in every workplace and giving members a “no bullshit” presentation on the crisis faced by our union and the need for all members to step up in a supported way and take responsibility for organising.
Many people thought this was nuts as members would say “this union is going under – let’s join another union that can offer better services”, but that was not the member response. Existing delegates were prepared to take on more if they were trained, members had children and grandchildren being exploited in non-union workplaces and everyone wanted to see them have the good working conditions that their parents and grandparents had achieved through the union.
Member organiser strategy
One of the strategies that came out of taking the debate to the SWU (Service and Food Workers Union from 1997) membership was to set up a volunteer organiser programme that identified member volunteers who agreed to volunteer their time to help organise non-union workplaces or networks. The volunteers would undergo an intensive education process, would be reimbursed their travel and phone expenses, and would be supported by a paid organiser on an identified project.
Current E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman said the member organiser programme was about increasing the union’s depth of member leaders capable of building sustainable workplace organisation. However, she noted that there was also another benefit for the union:
“Identifying member leaders to step up in this way sharpened the focus on organisers in terms of skills, responsibilities and levels of commitment required. It also required a wider skill set for the organiser because it was their job to develop the leader.”
Darien Fenton, since her time as the SWU Education and Organising Director, had pointed out the necessity of changing the organiser’s role from being “the leader” to “the coach”. Working with volunteers on a structured organising programme put this role change into sharp relief.
Jody Anderson, currently an E tū organising team leader, was involved in one of the first volunteer organiser programmes in the late 1990s. She was a workplace delegate in aged care and was invited by her organiser to participate, along with 5 other members, in the programme.
She said that the programme involved a lot of education about the crisis in the union movement and how we all came from union islands that were going to be submerged in the non-union sea unless we all did something about it.
“We had a deep understanding about needing to organise the unorganised if our movement was to survive,” said Jody.
Jody’s project was not just to recruit new members, but more importantly was to identify other potential union activists in non-union workplaces who could carry out the workplace recruitment and organising.
Even though she was still employed in her aged care job during and after the organising project, the experience led to further organising opportunities and built her confidence to eventually apply for a full-time organiser’s job.
“I would never have applied for an organiser’s job had it not been for the member organiser programme. I was far more at home within the community support sector and, as a working-class woman, saw union officials as being at a higher level than me.”
Not all volunteer member organisers became paid union organisers, although some did, both for the SFWU, other unions or community organisations. However, they did provide a cohort of industry member leaders, executive members and knowledgeable activists that built the wider union campaigns.
Annie Newman reflects that historically, the best member leaders were developed by young energetic campaign-type organisers “because they were focused on developing the workers through education and activism and not just treating them as an appendage to business-as-usual.”
She warned though that the programme exposed workplace leaders to the life of organisers, which could be highly politicising, if not personally disruptive, for some.
She recalled on at least two occasions a member leader leaving a job they had been employed in for many years because their involvement in the union had raised their hopes and ambitions for a different kind of life that did not eventuate.
However, member organisers such as aged care worker Marianne Bishop said because she and others were volunteers and remained connected to their jobs during and after their organising project, they were more grounded than full-time union employees.
Member organiser programmes were conducted in aged care, in cleaning and in disability support with some member organisers working inside the union’s Māori, Pasifika and Women’s structures to build their capability. In 2001, the union aimed to develop 50 member organisers.
Member organisers were given status inside the union, being asked to stand up and present at conferences, highlighted in union magazines and being role models of organising commitment.
In 2008, the National Government depleted the Employment Related Education Fund, which the SFWU had been using to employ full-time union educators. This encouraged the union to extend the member organiser model to a new group called member educators. They worked together in groups to learn the skills of adult education and how to carry out one-to-one and group education modules for other members.
Some of these member educators, such as Sharryn Barton and Mele Peaua, are still active in E tū and are still using the skills they gained from this experience. Sharryn, for instance, used these skills when she was supporting meatworkers on the picket line outside the Horotiu AFFCO Plant during their 2015 lockout.
Member organiser/educator programmes and the development of member leaders requires ongoing commitment from union leadership and the continual re-invigoration of an internal union organising culture.
It is easy once a financial crisis abates to take the foot off the pedal and go back to funding more and more full-time organisers in lieu of investment in member leaders.
While many unions talk about organising, the proof that organising is occurring is the presence in the union of thousands of passionate activists.
We need activists at every level of the union from its national executive and industry councils, in Maori, Pasifika, Women and Youth Networks, and in workplace committees.
These activists need to be seen at every union event, whether it is the union conference or a presentation to a local council or parliamentary select committee.
If they are not there, then you are not organising, and your union will struggle to survive.
In this sense member organisers have remained a small, although precious, contributor to modern New Zealand organising unionism.
This article was originally published in the NZ Labour History Project September 2020 Bulletin.
In early October, union delegates from E tū and NZNO met with Heritage management to continue the push for a fair deal for all Heritage workers.
Over a year ago, we told Heritage that we wanted a union agreement that protects all staff in all Heritage facilities, and we’ve been working on that ever since.
Last week was a mix of good news and bad news. Recently Heritage received a 3% funding increase from the DHBs.
- The good news is that Heritage is offering pay increase of 3% to all household staff and further pay rises to nurses.
- The bad news is that care staff were not included. We continue to push for carer to move faster up the pay scales.
- The good news is that Heritage has offered to include the sites that used to have a collective, including the BUPA and Oceania sites.
- The bad news is that most other sites are shut out.
Your bargaining team have told Heritage that their proposal is not fair.
E tū and NZNO are recommending to members that we accept the pay rise for household staff, RNs, and ENs, and that we continue to push for a fair deal for all Heritage staff.
If you want to add you voice to the call for a fair deal at Heritage you can help by making sure everyone at your work is union member!
For more information, please call E tū Support on 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466).
On International Day of the Older Person, New Zealand aged care workers are adding their voices to the global call to create a “shield against COVID-19” with better conditions for workers and residents in aged care homes around the world.
E tū members are participating in the Global Nursing Homes Day of Action on 1 October, coordinated by UNI Global Union, representing around 20 million workers in unions worldwide.
The day of action calls for increased staffing, safer workplaces, and increased union representation.
Aged care worker and E tū delegate Gill Butcher says COVID-19 has simply been a catalyst to “shine a light” on issues in aged care that desperately need attention.
“Already before COVID-19, we were on the brink of catastrophe with short staffing levels. In one incident, we had a situation where there was a ratio of one caregiver to 22 residents,” she says.
“Ask yourself how a single caregiver, in a seven-and-a-half-hour shift could look after 22 people, which includes toileting and feeding, let alone have a chat and a cup of tea.”
Gill says now more than ever, worker and union voices need to be part of the conversation to improve conditions, particularly as COVID-19 has exacerbated existing issues, such as short staffing.
“At my care home, we didn’t have anyone walk in with COVID-19 but that was just a matter of luck, not due to good management or adequate staffing. Many facilities could have ended up like Rosewood.”
An E tū director, Kirsty McCully, says listening to workers and increasing the ratio of carers to residents, as well as making those guidelines mandatory, is a first step to improving the situation.
“We know from research, both in New Zealand and internationally, that short staffing issues, poor pay and lack of training all contribute to worse outcomes for residents and workers.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we acknowledge and respect the vital role that aged care workers – our essential workers – play in our families and communities.
“One way we can show that respect is by providing the proper conditions and, most importantly in New Zealand, mandatory safe staffing rules, which would ensure that our vulnerable loved ones are kept safe and are able to maintain a life of dignity.
“On this global day of action, we stand with aged care workers worldwide who have braved the frontlines of COVID-19, we celebrate workers’ efforts to keep residents safe, and we encourage all aged care workers to join together in their unions so we can continue to bring improvements to the sector.”
information and comment:
Kirsty McCully, 027 204 6354