Author: E tū

Proposed redundancies at NZ Steel will harm local and national economy, union says

Buying local and supporting local businesses is more important than ever, E tū says, in the wake of up to 200 redundancies proposed by BlueScope Steel.

On Thursday, the Australian-owned company who has New Zealand’s NZ Steel in Glenbrook and Pacific Steel in Otahuhu, announced its proposal to make between 150 to 200 workers redundant.

BlueScope aims to cut up to around NZ$54 million in costs, after their A$5.8 million full-year operating loss. However, they have now ruled out the closure of either Kiwi plant.

E tū member Lance Gush says members have a good collective agreement with strong terms and conditions to deal with the consultation process.

“Now it’s about maintaining what we can, working through the process to consult with the company, and minimising the impact on workers to get an outcome that’s good for everyone.

“We understand role we play in the structure of the local community and groups. We understand the business also needs to make a profit. We all want to be part of a successful business – it’s about how we do that together for the future.”

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says the consultation process will take around seven weeks, as the collective agreement means the company is required to go through an “extensive” process with members around redundancy.

“We’re arguing the company needs to maintain workers’ incomes, their hours of work, and by any means necessary, to minimise job losses.”

While it’s some comfort that complete closure is off the cards, there is a ‘supply chain effect’ when people lose their jobs, which will not only harm the economy but many New Zealand communities, Joe says.

“For every $100 it takes to make to steel, $80 goes back into our economy – that’s a huge amount, compared to the $5 return from imported steel.

“Any redundancies will have a supply chain effect which will impact many industries, including manufacturing and construction. We’ve got to support local as well – that means cafes, gyms, and other small businesses – this is what keeps our communities alive,” Joe says.

“We have to do whatever it takes to keep local businesses going – big and small – and support each other to get through this.”

ENDS

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

Union warns no more ‘job slashing’ in wake of Air New Zealand loss

E tū wants to see the country’s national airline carrier putting airline workers and their jobs at the centre of the aviation sector’s recovery in the wake of its reported full-year loss.

On Thursday, Air New Zealand announced an after-tax loss of $454 million for the 2020 financial year.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, thousands of workers have been made redundant, been put on furlough, or taken extended leave without pay.

An E tū cabin crew member, who prefers not to be named, says although the company had recently thanked staff and was going through cost-saving measures to protect jobs, it now needed to “put its money where its mouth is” with regards to its people.

“There’s always a fear of redundancy. I don’t think anyone feels comfortable right now or could say with 100% certainty that their job is safe.”

They say the way that the wave of redundancies was handled during the first lockdown has left a “bitter taste” behind.

“It was the speed with which the redundancies happened – the fact that people were isolated and unable to get together and talk about it. There’s a sense that there’s always the chance that [the company] could have saved more jobs.”

E tū’s Head of Aviation Savage says the “heavy-handed way” in which Air New Zealand went about its cost reductions, including its clumsy handling of fare refunds, has damaged its reputation with the public and with employees.

“They are no longer the respected brand they once were, and the approach to cost reduction via mass redundancies is not a sustainable strategy.

“Air New Zealand needs to do far better by its employees and not just always fall back on a blunt measure, like slashing jobs.”

Savage says if the airline can’t rebuild trust and ensure the safety of their staff and the travelling public, then it will struggle to recover.

“Any moves to cut more jobs, or to outsource work – like Qantas has – in order to save money and decrease the wages of working Kiwis, would severely damage its reputation even further,” he says.

“As the country’s national carrier, the airline needs to ensure there are well-paid, decent jobs, and to give workers have a proper say in what’s happening, with their voices leading the recovery.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Savage, 027 590 0074

‘Significant redundancies’ proposed and possible mill closure for steel workers

Keeping local jobs as part of the New Zealand construction industry supply chain is essential, E tū union says, after the announcement of proposed redundancies by BlueScope Steel.

On Monday, the Australian-owned company warned of its plans to lay off “a substantial number” of staff as it reduces the scale of its New Zealand sites in Otahuhu and Glenbrook.

It reported a full-year operating loss of A$5.8 million for its operations in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and has not ruled out complete closure of its Glenbrook mill.

E tū member Lance Gush, who works at New Zealand Steel’s Glenbrook mill, says while the extent of the redundancies isn’t yet known, the situation was causing anxiety for workers.

“We’ve seen press releases in Australian papers talking about mass redundancies, and it’s very concerning. The lack of information makes that worse,” he says.

“Obviously, this business is an extremely important landmark in the Glenbrook community and surrounding communities. Any layoffs would have a huge impact on the area.”

Lance says other redundancies, including voluntary redundancy and redeployment of workers, affecting up to 60 staff at Glenbrook were only formally confirmed on Friday last week.

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says while the union acknowledges the “significant headwinds” faced by the company, such as power, carbon emissions and the competitive prices of imported steel, keeping local jobs was essential.

“Glenbrook is the only mill in the country that produces steel, and it’s really valuable to our economy. This business contributes to 1% of our GDP, with a direct benefit to the community of more than $135 million per year,” Joe says.

“One in four workers in the Glenbrook community are employed at the mill, and we’d like to see a guarantee from the Government that will ensure local procurement.”

Joe says retaining steel production onshore will keep the New Zealand construction industry strong and keep valuable production lines open, rather than relying exclusively on imported steel.

ENDS

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

Historic win in advancing equal pay for women

The “sun is shining” for caregiver and equal pay campaigner Kristine Bartlett and female workers everywhere in the wake of the Equal Pay Amendment Bill which passed late on Thursday night.

The amendment, which was passed at 11.59pm on July 23, will now make it easier for workers to raise a pay equity claim and help parties reach a settlement without going through the court system.

It’s welcome news for Kristine, a former rest home carer, who fought for years to secure the Care and Support Workers (Pay Equity) Settlement Agreement in 2017.

The settlement confirmed that the low rates of pay in the care and support sector were the result of systematic, gender-based discrimination.

Kristine, who is newly retired, says the new amendment “hits the nail on the head”.

“The sun is shining down on me today. Now those low-paid women workers can fight for their rights without going to court.

“The new law is now in place after eight years, after all the hard work from all the union members, supporters, and women’s coalition groups. We’ve finally done it in the year 2020.”

Kristine says although it took her awhile to understand the case she was fighting, when she did, she wondered why it hadn’t been done “donkey’s years ago”.

“I’ll never forget the first pay on my site and the look on the workers’ faces when they got that pay increase – their whole lives changed. Seeing these girls with their heads held high, saying, ‘We’re getting paid what we’re worth now.’”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says bill’s amendment is a fantastic example of how collective action is the way to make real change.

“This is an incredible achievement for all those, including Kristine, who have worked so hard to secure equitable, fair pay for women workers, after years of gender-based discrimination.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340


 

Campaign for mandatory staff-to-resident ratios in aged care homes

‘Deliver safe staffing for our seniors’ is the key message residents in rest homes and those working in the sector are urging the Government to commit to in the build-up to this year’s election.

With the support of Grey Power, E tū union and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) are launching an online open letter to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Tuesday to push for mandatory staffing levels to ensure a minimum ratio of carers to residents in the aged care sector.

Actions to support the nationwide campaign, #safestaffingnow, will also be taking place around the country in the coming weeks.

E tū delegate Sela Mulitalo says not having mandatory staffing requirements for rest homes and hospitals means poorer outcomes for residents and their carers too.

“For us, rushing around means that we do tend to miss a lot of things. Sometimes when we’re short-staffed, residents end up missing out on showers, for example,” Sela says.

“Residents feel rushed, like they’re not valued, but they don’t want to complain as they know it will fall back on us.”

Sela also says the needs of many residents are much more complex than they were when the guidelines were set down 15 years ago, meaning their care takes more time and staff need more training.

“This campaign will make a real different to those of us who work in this industry and the residents we look after.”

In 2010, the New Zealand Labour Party recommended making minimum staffing guidelines compulsory and referred to the sector as “desperate for a revolution”.

However, 10 years on, the recommendations are still not regulation, while the sector’s profit-driven model continues to drive chronic understaffing and dangerous working conditions for those working in the sector, and their vulnerable residents.

E tū Team Leader Jody Anderson says safe staffing is essential to providing respectful, high-quality, safe care.

“The health system hasn’t had the investment it needs, and as a result, we are now cutting corners to cut costs. COVID-19 has only re-emphasised the risks of unsafe practices in the sector, and the lack of staffing regulations,” she says.

“To make sure we rebuild our society better after COVID-19, we need to prioritise the wellbeing of our communities and our seniors, which means providing decent pay and adequate numbers of staff to facilitate the highest level of care for all.”

Share and sign the open letter at together.org.nz/safestaffingnow

#safestaffingnow launches at Woburn House, 57 Wai-iti Crescent, Lower Hutt on Tuesday 21 July at 3.30pm, where residents, aged care workers and special guests, including Labour MP Ginny Andersen and Green MP Jan Logie, will hold a street meeting outside a residential care facility.

E tū delegate Sela Mulitalo and Team Leader Jody Anderson will be available for comment at Woburn House.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Jody Anderson, 027 204 6370

Worker-led Health and Safety programme for Māori, Pasefika, and migrants

E tū is making sure workers’ voices lead the way with the kick-off of a new health and safety programme for Māori, Pasefika, and migrant workers in manufacturing.

Funded jointly by the union and a Workplace Injury Prevention grant from ACC, E tū’s worker leadership programme addresses the high rate of workplace injuries among these groups in the sector.

The programme, Ngā Puna Whai Oranga, begins with a series of hui from August to November, followed by workplace workshops until the end of 2021.

A worker in the manufacturing industry for 18 years and the Women’s Committee Convenor on E tū’s National Executive, Wheeti Haenga says she’s really excited about the course and rapt that ACC are supporting the programme – a “big stride forward” for Māori, Pasefika, and migrant workers.

“We’ve never had a mentor for Māori or Pasefika in my workplace, and I think this programme will really help to bring our people – particularly our young people – together.”

E tū Food and Manufacturing Industry Council Convenor Gadiel Asiata says the programme has been “long-needed” in the manufacturing industry and is a valuable opportunity for workers to play a leading role in ensuring effective health and safety practices.

“We don’t want just a ‘tick-box’ exercise or flyer-on-a-noticeboard-type approach. Instead, we need processes that are championed by both employers and employees, with strong worker role models,” he says.

The two-year programme will start with around 150 workers, with room for more as the project expands.

After the hui conclude, onsite workshops will cover issues including cultural leadership, workplace risk-management tools, and overcoming barriers to leadership.

E tū Runanga Convenor Sharryn Barton says she hopes it will provide an opportunity for workers to connect with their cultural values in the workplace, given the high rates of injury for tāngata whenua.

“Health and safety is based in Manaakitanga, which means looking after people, your family, and the place you’re in. We need to recognise that we all have mana, and how well we look after others also determines our own wellbeing.”

Sharryn is grateful to ACC for its generous support of the programme. She says she hopes Ngā Puna Whai Oranga will inspire the same passion and commitment to improving conditions for manufacturing workers and their families as the late Helen Kelly achieved in the forestry and agricultural sectors.

ACC Implementation Manager, Workplace Safety and Levies, Virginia Burton-Konia saysthey are pleased E tū has been a successful grant recipient.

“We are delighted to be able to support a grant initiative that champions improved health and safety outcomes for Māori, Pasefika, and migrant workers.”

Ngā Puna Whai Oranga will link to existing health and safety programmes, such as WorkSafe’s Maruiti and Puataunofo, and will also be assessed by AUT’s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research.

E tū plans to continue Ngā Puna Whai Oranga until 2027.

For more information and comment:
Sharryn Barton, 027 462 4390

Union calls for Just Transition for workers as smelter to close

E tū union is calling for a ‘Just Transition’ for workers in the wake of Rio Tinto’s announcement it will be closing its smelter at Tiwai Point.

Around 1000 workers directly employed by the smelter will be affected, as well as at least a further estimated 1600 workers in the supply chain and local businesses.

Rio Tinto has given notice to terminate its contract with electricity supplier Meridian Energy, which ends in August 2021.

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says the knock-on effect of the closure will be “huge”.

“This is a significant employer and this company is at the heart of its community. A closure will affect the entire supply chain, including other local suppliers,” he says.

“The smelter produces high grade aluminium and quality jobs for New Zealanders. It doesn’t make sense that as soon as it can’t get energy any cheaper, it abdicates responsibility for its workers.”

Rio Tinto needs to think about the legacy it wants to leave as a company, Joe says.

“To be clear, the closure will have an effect on the whole of Southland.”

Joe says the Government needs to consider a similar approach to that used in Taranaki with the Taranaki 2050 Roadmap, to ensure a Just Transition takes place.

“The Government should use the expertise, knowledge, and methodology that the Taranaki 2050 Roadmap partners have built in the region, but developing it at a much quicker pace for Southland with substantial investment early on.

“It has the opportunity post-COVID-19 to show a pathway forward for a proper, fair and just transition, including enabling workers to retrain or redeploy, while involving them, their communities, and iwi to rebuild better in the region.”

ENDS

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

Union calls for mandatory safe staffing after global report

E tū union supports a global call for better conditions for aged care workers to prevent future worker shortages, as highlighted in a recent OECD report.

The report, Who Cares? Attracting and Retaining Care Workers for the Elderly, draws attention to the poor pay and prospects of the profession, its physical and mental risks, and lack of training opportunities – all of which affect the length of time workers stay in the profession.

In New Zealand, the issue of safe staffing in aged care facilities is long-standing, as staff to resident ratios are not mandatory.

As shown in the OECD’s report, the median tenure estimated for staff across the sector in New Zealand is just 5 years.

An E tū delegate in a North Island aged care facility who wants to remain anonymous, says her experiences during COVID-19 have exacerbated the issues of an “already broken system”.

“The public would be horrified to know the everyday reality is not as it is depicted in the glossy brochures.

“Reality in my facility is a resident not missing just one shower, but not having a shower for almost three weeks. Reality is your loved one going hungry if there are not enough caregivers to help those that need assistance to eat,” she says.

“If I was a family of a resident, I would be really concerned that staffing levels are simply not safe.”

During COVID-19, staff were under even more pressure as carers resigned over the lack of PPE or took leave as they felt their family circumstances posed a risk of introducing the virus into the care home, she says.

She says unsafe staffing levels are not only detrimental to residents, but also have a knock-on effect on the sector as a whole.

“Unless working conditions improve, staff will leave the sector and residents will lose the well-trained, qualified teams who work with them day-to-day to deliver the most personal of care and support services to ensure their overall wellbeing.”

E tū Director Sam Jones says New Zealand’s staffing standards, which were set down in 2005, are out-of-date and desperately need to be reviewed to accommodate the complex needs of residents.

“With almost three-quarters of COVID-19 deaths in New Zealand connected to residential aged care facilities, the pandemic has only re-emphasised the urgency of the situation for workers in the aged care sector, as we’ve seen in examples such as the tragic events at Rosewood in Christchurch.”

Sam says addressing staffing levels will also help to combat a potential worker shortage in future.

“We’re calling the Government to set minimum staffing numbers to protect both residents and carers, to ensure we are rebuilding better in the wake of COVID-19. This means prioritising community health and revitalising the sector by providing strong development opportunities and pay that reflects the vital work of caring for our elderly.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Sam Jones, 027 544 8563

Workers’ voices needed in future changes to PPE management

A union for care and support health workers says it is essential that workers’ voices are included in any changes to PPE provision during major health events in future.

On Wednesday, the Auditor General released an overview looking at the management of PPE in New Zealand during COVID-19.

E tū represents 15,000 workers in the health sector, including more than 10,000 in care and support roles such as home support, disability support and residential aged care.

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says workers knew early on there was a major systems failure in access to PPE.

“The experience of E tū members and other frontline healthcare workers varied massively, as outlined in an E tū survey of workers in April and this caused unnecessary stress and concern. Some workers waited weeks for access to PPE.”

Kirsty says workers shouldn’t have had to speak out so strongly in order for the Ministry to revise their initial advice on PPE usage.

“The current contracting system and multiple, layered split of services and tendering processes across DHBs was a major barrier to workers and clients accessing PPE. On top of this, the profit motive, particularly in the residential aged care sector, didn’t help.

“PPE for health care workers needed a much greater level of coordination and better central distribution by the Ministry of Health. However, as the Auditor General comments, the ‘size, scale, and speed of the pandemic required the Ministry to play a strong and decisive leadership role in a largely devolved sector’,” Kirsty says.

“Recommendation three of the report – reviewing how PPE clinical guidelines will be prepared or amended and consistently communicated during emergencies – is absolutely critical to us.

“Workers’ voices needed to have been included from the start in this and we will make sure that any changes following this report are co-designed by workers themselves.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Kirsty McCully, 027 204 6354