Author: E tū

Rest home strike continues: “Our employer’s not listening”

Workers at the sole rest home in a rural Northland town are striking again over proposed pay cuts to their allowances and other problematic clauses in their new collective agreement.

Members at Claud Switzer Rest Home in Kaitaia have been in negotiations since May, and in desperation for their employer to listen, have started taking strike action.

The employer wants to cut or reduce members’ allowances and other benefits, notably reducing pay for weekend work, removing workers’ job security with a force majeure clause, and other changes to their conditions of employment.

Management also circulated documents to workers that threaten possible redundancies and a decrease in the number of beds, due to an implied lack of building and refurbishment funds if workers don’t accept the new collective agreement. 

Longtime worker at Claud Switzer and E tū member Kam Wijohn, who only works weekends so she can care for her grandchildren during the week, says workers at the home are feeling angry and unhappy about the situation.

“We feel that our employer isn’t listening to how we’re feeling,” she says.

“We have mortgages, we’re trying to pay for our own homes. To have that cut in pay would be really hard – we rely on that pay.”

Kam estimates that she’d potentially be losing thousands from her pay per year if her weekend allowance is eventually reduced from an extra $5 per hour to just $12 for the whole shift.

“My husband is on minimum wage. That’s why we compromise – he works during the week while I care for the grandkids, and I work the weekends.”

Kam says she’s also worried about another clause which would potentially give the employer the right to terminate workers on medical grounds, without necessarily providing time to recover or for a plan to return to work.

Residents are also aware of what’s going on for workers, she says.

“The workers are unhappy, and the residents are unhappy that we’re unhappy.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the proposed agreement will only exacerbate the short staffing situation in the home and increase turnover.

“Staff turnover is already increasing, rosters issued are full of gaps, and staff levels on the weekends are becoming unsafe. Staff morale is very low,” she says.

“In our view, the employer will spend more money in recruiting and training new staff than what they may save reducing allowances.”

Annie says the employer has not acted well during the negotiation process, including shifting the goalposts by going back on their word to make additions that hadn’t been previously discussed.

Members will continue to take action until they reach a fair agreement, she says.

“The members at Claud Switzer are very committed to their residents and genuinely care for the people they look after,” she says.

“The positive support and response they’ve received from the community only reinforce their commitment to stand together for decent pay and conditions, which are so badly needed in the aged care sector.”

E tū members will be striking on Saturday 30 October from 8am-10am outside Claude Switzer Rest Home, 71 South Road, Kaitaia.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

Care workers deserve decent work too – #CAREday21

This Friday 29 October marks a global day of action for investment and decent work in care – #CAREday21. As the world continues to navigate the health and socioeconomic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of care workers – the majority of whom are women – continue to provide essential services in the most challenging of circumstances.

Decades of underinvestment, further exposed by the pandemic, has affected the accessibility, and safety of health and care services worldwide. Now is the time to stimulate sustainable economic and jobs growth in the care sector, as these are the green jobs of the future, with increasing numbers of people needing quality care and support as our population ages.

But to ensure the public has can access this, it is essential that there is investment to create decent and fair working conditions for our care workforces. 

Consider Tara, a community support worker who goes from home to home supporting over 65s, or those with long term medical conditions or disabilities. Tara is a solo mum of three school-aged children, and manages her time around parenting responsibilities, trying to work enough hours to keep a roof over their heads, pay the mortgage, and manage before and after school care.

Tara’s hours change from week to week as her guaranteed hours of work are kept low – for her, this means only 21 hours of work guaranteed per week even though she’d like more. Tara relies on additional child support payments coming in, otherwise it would be hard for her to survive week to week and cover the bills. When her employer needs Tara to do more hours, she is called in at short notice, but Tara is never given the certainty of those hours.

With petrol and car costs going up all the time, the equation becomes incredibly hard, and when you add on top of that the fact that community support workers often have no input into the way clients are cared for, Tara says it can be hard to feel good about the job.

Precariousness in the care sector is nothing new. Precariousness for women is certainly nothing new. Job security, regular hours and consistent entitlements are, arguably, an aberration of the post-Second World War period, enjoyed primarily by male – mostly white – workers in wealthier economies.

For women, stability and security has often been tied to a marital relationship. Insecure work remains racialised and gendered, with disproportionate impacts on women and people of colour. In New Zealand, women homecare workers had to take legal action even to be considered workers (Cashman v Central Regional Health Authority [1997]).

Successful litigation by unions ensures care workers are now paid for most of their work time, including travel between clients in the community, or for sleepovers. Previously care workers were paid only an allowance for being ‘on call’ when they were really at work. Most successful has been the Care and Support Pay Equity Settlement, which resulted in care workers achieving some of the biggest pay rises of their lives – it was ‘life changing’, as the instigator of the legal action and subsequent New Zealander of the Year, Kristine Bartlett, put it.

Yet the shifting of cost and risk to working people, alongside their declining share of employers’ profits, is perhaps most pointed in the case of the emerging ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, in which online platforms like Uber are used to connect individual workers to individual consumers. 

Platforms for care, such as MyCare, operate in New Zealand, and arrangements which allow the market to determine the rates for care work, and ultimately the regulation of it, could threaten the improvements made by care workers and their unions over the past decade. It’s one of the reasons drivers and their unions have taken a legal case against Uber to prove, as others have globally, that in fact, they are the employer of drivers.

Reforms to the health system in New Zealand are positive and well overdue, but at the forefront, investing in the 150,000 workers in community settings, including Kaupapa Māori, home and community support, and other essential residential care settings is key. Care workers in New Zealand ultimately are the care provided to our loved ones, and investment in their ongoing training and continued ability to do the job should be paramount.

This means ensuring the value of the pay equity settlement is maintained when it expires in June 2022. It means ensuring gig, contracting, and other individualised models of employment do not take over to unravel the positive and world-leading steps New Zealand has taken to train, regulate, and to think of care workers as real people. It means continuing the reforms – only partially completed – and which were recommended back in 2012 in the Caring Counts Report to create safe staffing levels in our residential care facilities.

Real people, like Tara, who cannot survive on hours that change every week or two, or without security of income, or in an environment where the psychosocial harm associated with the job is as real as the harassment she may face as an individualised worker in a private home.

Community care workers had to fight for their own safety during the initial Covid lockdown when initial PPE guidance suggested masks and gloves weren’t needed when going from home to home every day delivering personal care, despite public guidance that everyone should avoid visiting their elderly family and friends lest they be placed at risk. 

Workers had to keep standing up and taking action to win improvements throughout the pandemic. Just this past week, workers at Kaitaia’s only rest home – Claude Switzer – have gone on strike to try to win back their weekend rates and other benefits they stand to lose if they accept the terms their employer is proposing in a new collective agreement.

Care workers will continue to stand up in order to protect the wellbeing not only of those they care for, but also, for once, for themselves. But they shouldn’t have to do this alone. Let’s all stand beside them and call for investment in care and meet the demand to create the post-Covid care system our elders, vulnerable, and carers need.

Kirsty McCully is a health director at E tū.

Rest home workers strike: we can’t afford to lose pay or staff

Union members at a Northland rest home, who are desperate to avoid potentially losing pay and staff with proposed cuts to their pay and other collective rights, went on strike for an hour on Thursday.

Claud Switzer Memorial Trust, which runs the only rest home in Kaitaia, has proposed scrapping special pay allowances for health care assistants and domestic staff working weekend shifts, along with other benefits, as part of a new collective agreement.

Workers are currently being paid an additional $5 per hour to work on a weekend, and the employer wants to reduce this to just $12 extra in total for any weekend shift.

Other proposed changes include reducing penalty rates for overtime work, qualification allowances, and removing job security with a force majeure clause.

In a poster issued by management, the trust claims the future for the home is grim if workers don’t accept the new agreement – with around 20 residents needing to be moved and a 20% cut in staff due to lack of funds for a new building and upgrades.

E tū delegates say workers are struggling financially already without pay cuts and worry about the future.

“Our members are getting stressed out – they’re very unhappy,” says one.

“The weekend incentive rate management is trying to take away was the reason everyone was coming to work at that time – it was already a struggle to fill the weekend.”

Short staffing is already a huge issue in the aged care sector, and finding staff presents even more of a challenge during the Covid crisis, delegates say.

“We’re anticipating some change already with mandatory vaccinations coming in and having to take precautions – like wearing masks at work all day with summer coming – makes work more difficult for everyone.”

Delegates emphasise that the one-hour strike is a last resort to get management to listen.

“We all love our jobs – the hardest thing for us to do is to walk out. We’re walking out on human beings, not toilets and floors. It’s very disheartening for us.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says members have been bargaining since May and in mediation since August, in an effort to secure a fair collective agreement.

She estimates that without the weekend allowances, those workers working weekends as part of their 40 hour-week may miss out on up to $3,000 extra per year.

“There are quite a few workers who incorporate a Saturday or Sunday shift into their weeks – and some people only work weekends because of childcare responsibilities.”

The current $5 per hour is a reward for working unsociable hours, she says.

“The employer has said it can’t afford to pay workers the allowance and claims it pays more than other rest homes in the area,” Annie says.

“However, they won’t tell us which rest homes they’re referring to. From our own research across New Zealand rest homes, it would appear $5 per hour is average for workers who are working weekends as part of their normal 40-hour week.”

Annie says the employer is also trying to justify its position, claiming it needs the funds for building work and upgrades – or workers face losing residents and colleagues.

“Workers at Claud Switzer deserve to be fairly compensated for the work they do and to see their hard-won working rights upheld as they care for the most vulnerable in our communities.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

National Executive representatives announced

The results are in for the 2021 National Executive elections.

We’re delighted to welcome back two long-serving members of the E tū whānau.

Angelique Kerr – Central region representative

Angelique served as the central region representative on E tū’s National Executive for the last three terms, including chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.

She works as at New Zealand’s Parliamentary Service in executive support and as a researcher.

“I want to continue to focus on ensuring that our union invests more in not only recruiting more members, but also training and empowering our union members to be union leaders in their workplace and communities.

“Our goals as a union are still focussed on growth, reach and capability. We need to continue to grow our union, even during these challenging times.”

Nikki Twine – Southern region representative

Nikki served as the southern region representative on E tū’s National Executive last term. She has been an E tū delegate for 20 years and also sits on the E tū Aviation Industry Council.

Nikki works as cabin crew for Mt Cook Airline.

“I’m driven by a strong belief in fairness for ‘all’, always being approachable, level-headed, and committed to my various E tū roles.

“2020/21 has seen many of us having to rethink, re-evaluate, and restructure our future. Our union continually needs to do the same to stay relevant and modern for our current and future membership without losing focus on our purpose and values: integrity, manaakitanga, aspiration, respect, and accountability.”

Results for other National Executive positions

All other National Executive roles were re-elected unopposed.

North Island vice president

Gadiel Asiata

South Island vice president

Ray Pilley

Northern region representative

Mischelle Moriarty

Returning officer

Christopher Gordon

All workers deserve the right to decent work

E tū stands alongside unions around the globe on World Day for Decent Work and continues to advocate for the right of workers everywhere to decent work.

Our definition of decent work is simple: it’s about a decent income, having secure work, a quality working environment, and for workers to have a voice in the workplace.

Currently, E tū is developing a Decent Work Charter and is hosting a Decent Work Summit in 2022 for Auckland-based member leaders.

New Zealand Post worker Misty Fergusson attended one of E tū’s first Decent Work trainings and knows what Decent Work means to her.

“It’s things like Fair Pay Agreements and the Living Wage. That’s a really big one – if I was getting paid over the Living Wage for my job, I’d be so much better off. It wouldn’t be as much of a struggle as it is now.

“It’s about giving everyone a fair fighting chance,” Misty says.

Misty’s Decent Work training also looked at the idea of social insurance – a guaranteed income for people who are made redundant, set at a much more liveable level than the current basic benefit.

Social insurance would be a good last resort to help families while they look for other employment – especially better employment – after losing their job, she says.

“It would mean you had so many better options, instead of MSD just shoving you into the first job they can get you, expecting you to stick it out on the minimum wage.”

E tū organiser Amy Hansen says no worker should be left behind in the fight for decent work.

“There’s so many aspects of jobs today that still don’t meet our criteria, and the criteria of organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, for what decent work involves.

“From seeing workers earning the minimum wage instead of the Living Wage, the rise of insecure, contract work, workplaces that present health and safety risks, and industries where workers don’t have the right to collectively bargain or don’t have industry standards – the need for decent work is more important than ever.”

Amy says events such as the planned E tū Job Summit will help to spread the word about decent work.

“We want workers to understand what decent work is and be part of the fight to create a better work future for themselves, their whānau, and communities.

“Decent work should be the right of all workers in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

ENDS

E tū wāhine highlight domestic violence on Suffrage Day

As E tū women celebrate Suffrage Day in Aotearoa New Zealand, they also urge communities to remember the fight that’s still going for many women.

Research shows that during emergency situations such as the COVID-19 crisis, gender-based violence gets worse.

According to an online survey by researchers at the University of Otago, around nine percent of New Zealanders said they’d experienced some kind of family harm over the lockdown period last year.

E tū Women’s Committee Convenor Wheeti Haenga says the issue of family violence comes up often in committee meetings.

“We are hearing stories about women who have been affected by domestic violence, and there’s a real concern that during COVID, because we know this tends to get a lot worse.

“Every woman and child in Aotearoa should live in homes that are free from violence.”

Wheeti says the committee wants all women to know there is help out there, including places such as Women’s Refuge.

“There’s practical and genuine support – they’ll get you to a secure house, make sure you have fresh food, PJs for the kids, and petrol vouchers.”

Family Violence Leave is also available for up to 10 days, she says.

Wheeti says that despite the many issues that remain for women, she wants to recognise their mahi and strength during the COVID crisis.

“A shout out to our wonderful wāhine everywhere in Aotearoa New Zealand, including our Māori and Pasefika women – they’ve all done a brilliant job.

“Suffrage Day is about remembering all our wāhine and their individual struggle to secure their rights as a collective.”

Where to get help

Concerned about a child?

  • If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the Police on 111.
  • For non-urgent cases where you suspect a child may be in an unsafe environment, call Oranga Tamariki on 0508 326 459 or email [email protected]
  • Child Matters: Full consultation service free of charge. Contact Child Matters National Services Manager Megan West on 022 547 7505 for more.

‘Just Transition’ plans needed for declining industries, union says

E tū is calling for transition plans for industries affected by the changing marketplace, in the wake of a proposed closure of a major printing plant.

Almost 60 workers are set to lose their jobs at the Christchurch branch of Ovato, a print distribution company that has seen demand for its South Island business badly affected by the COVID crisis.

Around 30 E tū members will be affected by the proposal, the outcome of which will be confirmed on Monday.

All of Ovato’s business will then move to its other plant based in Wiri, Auckland.

On hearing the news, E tū delegate Ken Gibson says: “Members are gutted but saw writing on the wall with the way the work was slowing down.

“We have people who’ve been here anywhere from 10 to 40 plus years.”

The company has sent all workers home for the rest of the day, as many are in shock after the proposal was announced.

Joe Gallagher, a negotiation specialist at E tū, says while the company is providing good redundancy terms and packages for union members, Just Transition plans for supply chain businesses like Ovato are essential.

“We need to see transition plans for whole industries – like printing – in the supply chain, so that we can all work together to get the best outcome for workers, as some industries wind down and others ramp up.

“This applies not only to industries impacted by marketplace changes, but also to those that we know will be affected by other major factors such as climate change.

“There’s also some urgency to this, as the impacts of the pandemic are hastening the decline of some industries faster than might have occurred otherwise.”

Joe says other businesses in the printing industry have also shown signs of struggle, and workers need to be involved in planning their working futures.

“As we see changing trends continuing to affect demand in this industry, we need to craft alternative work pathways for workers so they can take their skills into other areas or have the opportunity to retrain.

“As always, workers’ voices are a key part of any transition plan, and unions have a clear role to play in facilitating this.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

E tū: No nonsense from big business this lockdown

E tū says it won’t be sitting by if big corporates try to shirk their duty to pay workers their proper wages during the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Last year, E tū was concerned by some major companies that accepted the Government’s wage subsidy but treated workers badly – cutting wages, making them use annual leave, and layoffs – and still turned a profit.

A worker from a large infrastructure company that was among those that claimed the most from the Government says so far there’s been no news of what’s happening with their pay this lockdown.

“It’s shaping up to be the same as last year. They are avoiding us – not getting in touch with workers,” he says.

The man says last year workers in his department initially agreed to a pay cut of around 20%, deeming it a reasonable request under the circumstances.

That was, until they found out the company intended to pay them 20% less – not of their normal, much higher, wage, but of an average base rate.

He says it amounted to about a 50% pay cut overall and the situation bred distrust: “People weren’t happy about it. There was a just the feeling of unfairness.”

Some workers have heavy financial commitments – such as supporting family overseas, paying for medical care, or are the sole providers in their families – and couldn’t afford to take such a huge cut in pay, he says.

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says companies need to honour employment law and pay their workers as agreed in their collective agreements or individual employment contracts.

“Workers in Aotearoa New Zealand pulled us through this crisis last time, and a lot of the large companies that were ‘down and out’ went on to record big profits.

“We’re not going to tolerate workers not being paid what has been agreed to in their collective agreements.”

Joe says it’s unacceptable for companies to take advantage of the situation to get away with paying their workers less, leaving them dependent on legal measures to recoup what they should have been paid in the first place.

“Companies need to honour and respect employment law – do the right thing now and pay workers 100%.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

‘Do the right thing’ union says, after workers report reduced pay or annual leave requests

E tū says all employers in Aotearoa New Zealand must pay their workers 100% of their wages during the national lockdown period.

During the March 2020 lockdown and other elevated Alert Level periods, the union dealt with many cases where workers had to accept reduced pay or use their annual leave to get paid – even when employers were being supported by the Government’s wage subsidy.

E tū delegate Josephine Wiredu, a cleaner at Auckland’s City Council who normally works around 55 hours a week, was sent home from work on Tuesday night as the country prepared to go into lockdown.

She and her colleagues have been told not to come in during Alert Level 4, and don’t yet have any guarantees about whether they’ll receive their full wages during this time.

Josephine, who is paid at the Living Wage rate, says any drop in income would be a “big blow”.

“Our employer only paid the 80% last year during the second lockdown, as they were no longer eligible for the wage subsidy. But they paid this from their own pocket,” she says.

“They have applied for the wage subsidy again now, but we don’t know what will happen yet. At the same time, we still need to pay our bills no matter what, so the decision will affect our families.”

Another delegate and cleaner, who doesn’t wish to be named and also works at the council for a different contractor, says workers are fully entitled to be paid 100% of their wages.

“Nobody knew that lockdown would be happening again, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Lockdown doesn’t stop our rent or power money going out.

“We signed a contract with our employer, they must keep to it,” she says.

Last year, the cleaner, who usually works more than 60 hours a week, says she was forced to use savings when her income during lockdown dropped to around 70% of her usual pay.

She doesn’t know how her pay will be affected this time, but in her role as a supervisor, she’s already had to refuse a request from management asking her to get colleagues to sign a form agreeing to use their annual leave during this lockdown.

E tū organiser Yvette Taylor says the union is also hearing from members in similar situations: being asked to take leave or agree to reduced pay.

“It is unacceptable that, through no fault of their own, some workers are having to bear the financial brunt of the lockdown.

“For someone on low pay, not being paid their full wages causes a financial crisis, because there’s no money to spare week to week.

“A cut in pay means not being able to pay rents, keep the lights on, and pay for essentials for kids. Sometimes it also means taking on high interest debt just to get by.”

Yvette says employers need to value the work their workers are doing – many of whom will be providing essential services as soon as the country is out of Alert Level 4.

“As soon as the alert levels drop, many other essential workers will be expected to be straight back to work – workers like cleaners who will expected to give everything a deep clean, so the rest of us feel safe going back to public spaces.

“We should be valuing this work by ensuring they are paid 100%, not just turning the tap off and on during alert level changes.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Yvette Taylor, 027 585 6120