Author: E tū

Commendable increase to minimum wage but further rises needed

E tū welcomes the Government’s minimum wage rise and hopes its progression will continue to increase year-on-year to help lift more New Zealanders out of poverty wages.

From 1 April, the minimum wage will rise to $20 per hour – an increase of $1.10 up from $18.90.

The increase will benefit many groups of workers, including essential workers who are often the lowest paid, such as those in the cleaning, security, manufacturing, and aged care sectors.

E tū member Lavinia Kafoa says the increase will make a real difference to her pay packet, boosting it from what she earns hourly, which is just over the minimum wage.

“My rent is going up and I need to buy food for the kids – as single mother, it will really help me.”

E tū Team Leader Yvette Taylor says the rise is a commendable milestone, but the struggle is not over.

“This will make a substantial difference, but there’s still a long way to go before workers are receiving the Living Wage – the amount that workers need to truly survive and participate in society.

“We hope that the Government continues on this trajectory of increases to the minimum wage, to bring our national wage floor into line with what we know our essential workers need and deserve to live with choice and dignity.”

ENDS

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

Pizzas, dough, and mad employers

By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū

The 1991 Employment Contracts Act undermined collective bargaining and diminished the role of unions. It promised employers a world in which they could do whatever they liked without being restricted by “onerous” worker rights.

The post-1991 period was tough for unions, but sometimes union organising was temporarily helped by employers who, in my opinion, were certified nutcases – full of their own importance, blaming their workforce for everything and so frenetically busy that they never stopped to examine whether their style of management was destroying their own business.

One of these employers was Romanos Pizzas, which owned a small factory in the Hutt Valley and was busy setting up another one in Auckland. The owner was Elaine Gordon, but the driving force behind the business was the general manager Alister Kirby.

From Liverpool to Alicetown

In my first introduction to Alister Kirby, after giving me a handshake that almost broke my knuckles, he said “I faced down the TGWU in Liverpool. New Zealand unions are pussies compared to them.”

He was short of stature, had a very short fuse, and was so busy growing his business that workforce issues were of secondary concern. His regular overnight road trips between Wellington and Auckland did not help his demeanor.

Romanos produced wrapped fresh pizzas and pizza bases for supermarkets and employed about 25 workers at its Hutt Valley factory. Given the attitude of its management towards unions it was quickly de-unionised following the Employment Contracts Act.

In mid-1992 I was approached by a Romanos worker Liz Campbell, who had been unjustifiably dismissed and despite not being a union member was seeking the Service Workers Union assistance with her case.

I told Liz that the union would represent her providing she could get the other workers in the factory to a meeting and they joined the union. She organised the meeting at her house, 10 workers turned up and they all joined the union.

I raised a personal grievance on behalf of Liz Campbell for unjustified dismissal. After a number of communications with the Romanos lawyers it was settled on terms acceptable to her.

By the time of the settlement the Romanos union membership had grown to about 50% of the workforce and our on-site organising committee was meeting regularly, led by our two delegates Yvonne Bartle and Liz Campbell’s sister Hilda.

Smelly pizzas

On 11 March 1993 Romanos had complaints from customers that some of its pizzas had a strong and unpleasant smell coming from them. Alister Kirby’s immediate instinct was to blame the workers and accuse them of deliberately poisoning the pizzas in order to get him to recognise their union.

Local health officials were demanding to inspect the premises so he had a strategy to comply with their demands and also punish the workers. He announced to the workers that the factory was closed until further notice because of the deliberate sabotage of the pizzas and told them they were all locked out for health and safety reasons.

I responded to the situation at the factory within 10 minutes of the call from the union delegates and met with the workers by the back door. I told them that the lockout was illegal and if they wanted to get their jobs back and be paid for the lockout they should all stand together and join the union.

The union suddenly had 100% day-shift membership and we were in a position to threaten Alister Kirby that unless he agreed to lift the lockout and pay the workers for the time locked out we would picket the factory and also seek an injunction in the courts.

By then he was caught in a dilemma of provoking a picket and a lot of publicity around smelly pizzas or lifting the lockout, sending the workers home and paying them while the health officials did their tests.

The lockout was lifted but not without a mouthful of venom from Alister Kirby about his pizza poisoning suspicions.

Disciplinary action

The next day, as everyone returned to work, one of the workers Lofi Tupu was called to a disciplinary meeting over the damage to a locker. When we arrived at the meeting we found that the disciplinary issues had increased from damage to the locker to threatening violence to another employee, changing the “best before” date on the pizza date stamp and poisoning the pizzas with a chemical.

With very little evidence to back up the other complaints and only a couple of scratches on the locker Alister Kirby accepted that only a written warning for the locker was in order.

However, the issue did not stop there. Over the next few days super sleuth Alister Kirby interviewed a number of factory workers and came to the conclusion that Lofi Tupu had poisoned the pizzas with nail polish remover.

Alister suspended Lofi and when we met with him he said the interviews had revealed that Lofi had contaminated the pizzas with nail polish remover. He alleged she painted her finger nails and used nail polish remover, said he knew she was the culprit and out of the blue offered her $1500 if she resigned her employment.

When she turned down his offer he read out an already-prepared letter dismissing her for damaging a locker, threatening another employee with violence and changing the “best before” date on the pizza date stamp. There was no mention of the pizza contamination or the nail polish remover.

Collective agreement time

If this was meant to be a signal to the other union members that he was the boss and you should do as you are told, then it did not work.

While the union pursued a personal grievance for Lofi, the other members demanded that the union negotiate a collective employment contract with Romanos to strengthen their rights in the face of an unpredictable employer.

The response from Alister Kirby to the news of a collective agreement was an “over my dead body” verbal barrage down the phone.

I followed this up with a meeting in his office accompanied by the workplace delegates, where I presented him with a draft collective contract. Without looking at it he threw it into the rubbish bin. I told him that it was unlawful not to consider the negotiation of a collective agreement. He reached over to the rubbish bin, took out the draft collective agreement and put it in the bottom drawer of his desk with a comment “I am now considering it.”

He did though agree to negotiate individual contracts with each union member.

The negotiations were a farce as every worker was offered a 25 cents an hour pay increase with no other improvements to their employment terms. Even though the first few members made excuses about not accepting the identical offer on the spot, it soon became obvious to the workplace delegates that members wanted to grab the pay increase and to keep on organising later around a collective contract.

Stronger stance

Twelve months later when it was time to carry out the negotiations again, the members decided to take on a stronger stance.

We decided that we would get the Romanos offer for each member and not accept any of the offers until all of the members could talk about what had been offered together. It was a form of collective negotiation of individual contracts.

I arranged a date for the negotiations and asked Service Workers Union organisers Lee Tan and Nanai Muaau to be available for those members who wished to speak or have any offers interpreted into their own language, although Alister insisted that he would only allow myself and one worker at a time in his office for the negotiations.

I meet with Alister Kirby with the first member while Lee Tan waited downstairs with the other members. The first worker was offered 25 cents an hour pay increase with no changes to other conditions. I thanked Alister and said the member wanted to think about the offer some more.

The second member came in and she was offered 40 cents an hour because of what Alister said was her “sterling work”. After a brief adjournment I thanked Alister for the offer and said that this member wanted to talk to her partner about the offer.

When the third member came through the door Alister adopted a different tone. He said that this member was being offered 40 cents an hour on condition that he signed his individual employment contract before he left the room.

When we refused this demand, Alister stood up from behind his desk, told us to get out and then pushed past us and some other members waiting on the stairs as he headed to the factory floor. Once inside the factory he shouted “Its stopwork time. Stopwork meeting. Get out!” running around the factory floor pushing members towards the door and locking it behind him.

Lockout or strike?

We had a meeting with the members outside of the factory and all decided to return first thing the next morning for a picket.

When we returned the next morning there was a big sign on the factory door telling everyone that no work would be offered until the strike was over and each worker give a guarantee that it would not be repeated. If a worker wanted to return to work they needed to leave a letter in the office accepting these two demands and the company would then consider each letter and decide whether the worker would be welcomed back or not.

After a quick discussion over the definition of “strike” and “lockout” the members quickly came to the conclusion that the boss pushing you out the door and locking it was to any casual observer a fairly good example of a lockout.

The picket started that day and continued through until our day in the Employment Court on 15 September 1994. There was a good turnout of picketers each day and because an International Labour Organisation delegation was in Wellington that week investigating a complaint about the Employment Contracts Act, the action drew a lot of attention.

Representatives from other unions and from the NZ Council of Trade Unions joined the picket line as did Labour Employment Relations Spokesperson Steve Maharey and Alliance Party Leader Jim Anderton.

On 15 September 1994 the Employment Court granted the union an interim injunction against the Romanos lockout and the day later the union members marched back into the factory without any sign of Alister Kirby.

Nothing changes

That does not mean that there was any change in Alister Kirby’s position about collective bargaining and collective agreements.

While there were attempts by the union to gain a collective agreement they were continually frustrated by the actions of Romanos.

In August 1995 Romanos received another blow when the Employment Court decided that Lofi Tupu was unjustifiably dismissed and was awarded just over $10,000 in compensation.

It was the last straw for Alister Kirby. He had a heart attack just before the decision was released and the threat to his mortality opened the door to the union finally completing a collective agreement, with a 3% wage increase, an extra week’s annual leave and a set of standard conditions including accepted union rights.

However, this was a short pyrrhic victory as many of the original Romanos union activists soon left and the factory relocated to Auckland. Within a year of the move the Romanos business in Auckland closed as well and it was rumoured that Alister Kirby had experienced a second fatal heart attack.

Union organising at Romanos Pizzas only lasted about three years, but it was a sentinel event in our organising under the Employment Contracts Act. With the large effort put in by the union in trying to organise a small site, the question was asked about why we started in the first place.

Although the Romanos dispute did not gain our members everything that they wanted, it showed everyone, including other employers, that despite the Employment Contracts Act workers would still fight for their rights and there were no benefits in taking on a united workforce if doing so ended up destroying your business.

Union calls on Air New Zealand to rebuild better

E tū is calling on the country’s national carrier to ensure it rebuilds better than before, after the half-year announcement of a profit loss of $185 million, before other significant items and taxation.

E tū Head of Aviation, Savage, says the announcement comes as no surprise, but the issue now is whether the airline can balance its need to generate profits with its commitment to putting people before profits.

“The pandemic has focused attention on how vital Air New Zealand is to New Zealand’s economy – not just as part of our national infrastructure connecting the regions and to global markets, but also in terms of the standards Air New Zealand has itself set in industrial relations.”

Air New Zealand is a large, high profile employer that had turned a corner in the last five years, and committed to doing far better by its staff, he says.

E tū members represent a third of the workforce at Air New Zealand.

Savage says it is a hard time to be an airline worker.

“The company is rightfully scrutinising every cost increase, but workers still have bills to pay, housing costs continue to rise, and there are still people at Air New Zealand who earn below the Living Wage.

“Rebuilding a better airline that can serve the national needs and becoming a better employer is the challenge now.”

However, the company has made recent strategic statements that indicate its priorities in terms of people coming before profit, and that is the standard the company will be judged by, Savage says.

“Flying more passengers and cargo and vital to rebuilding, but the CEO and his management team will also need to keep supporting and recognising the thousands of workers who have kept the company going through all the tribulations of the last 12 months.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Savage, 027 590 0074

E tū welcomes vaccine arrival

The expected early arrival of Aotearoa New Zealand’s first vaccine shipment is welcome news to E tū, the union representing many border and health workers.

The Government announced this morning that the first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should be rolled out from next week and will be delivered to border and MIQ workers and their close contacts as a priority.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says it is great news.

“This is a very important milestone for our COVID-19 response and takes us a step closer to getting this virus under control,” Annie says.

“It’s entirely appropriate that people working at the border and in MIQ will be vaccinated first, as they have the most risk of exposure.”

Annie says it is vital that workers are not disadvantaged by the vaccine roll-out.

“This means that workers need to be properly paid throughout the process. If they need time off work for the vaccination, that must be fully paid. If any part of the process prohibits them from working for a period, that time off should also be paid and not require workers to use up their leave.

“These basics will need to be followed for the whole roll-out, not just this first batch. As our healthcare workers and others begin getting vaccinated, all Kiwi workers deserve financial security for doing that which is in all of our best interests.

“E tū members across many industries have kept Aotearoa safe and thriving through the pandemic. Health workers, aviation workers, cleaners, security guards, food workers, and many more have shown exactly how essential they are. 

“The best way to thank these workers for their outstanding service is to make sure they are always properly paid for the work they do and any sacrifices they have to make.”

Annie also stressed the importance of following official advice and relying on the best information from the Ministry of Health.

“E tū members are encouraged to learn about the vaccine and why it’s so important in our fight against the pandemic. Excellent information is available on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine page.

“With proper protections, and good information, Aotearoa can once again show the world how it’s done.”

ENDS

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

One step closer to Matariki holiday

Workers across the country are celebrating today as the Labour Government take a further step towards their pre-election commitment to make Matariki a public holiday.

The Government have announced that the first Matariki public holiday will be on 24 June 2022 and the date will change every year, similar to Easter.

E tū Co-President Muriel Tunoho says a mid-winter public holiday is long overdue.

“After Queen’s Birthday, Kiwi workers don’t get a public holiday until Labour Day in October. Matariki will give people a much-needed ray of sunshine in the middle of winter,” Muriel says.

“We are very happy that this will be a new public holiday. Matariki is unique and indigenous to Aotearoa and it is a very positive way our nation can all embrace it together.”

Muriel says that while the Government are making good progress on some workplace relations issues, other urgent issues remain.

“While an extra public holiday is fantastic news, E tū continues to campaign for many other changes that will fundamentally improve workplace relations in Aotearoa, such as the implementation of Fair Pay Agreements, paying the Living Wage to all workers in the public service, and strengthening industrial democracy.”

Union welcomes border workers given priority for COVID-19 vaccine

E tū supports the Government’s commitment ensuring that border workers and their families are prioritised in the roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said workers such as cleaners, nurses who undertake health checks in MIQ, security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to be vaccinated.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was given provisional approval by Medsafe today. The vaccines are expected to arrive in New Zealand by the end of the first quarter.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says the priority status is fantastic news for both border workers and their families.

“Protecting our members at work and keeping them and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic has been an ongoing concern for E tū.

“It’s a relief to know that their health and safety is considered a top priority.”

Annie says the union would like to see workers in care professions, such as aged care and home support, also given priority after the roll-out to border workers.

“During the lockdown, we saw that PPE was extremely slow and was not done with these workers in mind. We also need to make sure that workers on the frontlines in healthcare are taken into account, with worker consultation and rights at the forefront of any future processes.”

ENDS

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

Lifewise workers continue strike action despite lockout threat

Lifewise homecare support workers are continuing their fight for better working conditions, even as they now face a possible lockout from their employer in response to their strike action and pickets.

From Saturday, members will be going ahead with more strike and picket action, outside the Lifewise offices in Mount Eden.

Lifewise, an Auckland-based organisation which is also part of the Methodist Church, has issued a lockout notice to all E tū Lifewise members.

For more than a year and a half, Lifewise members, who care for vulnerable Kiwis including seniors and those living with disability, have been trying to negotiate their first collective agreement with increased sick and bereavement leave.

Members also need fair guaranteed hours as they struggle to survive financially, with some on as little as nine guaranteed hours of work a fortnight.

E tū delegate Helen Taufa says the move to lockout members is “extreme”, but members will not back down.

“Instead of coming back to the bargaining table to negotiate and talk about things, [Lifewise] has gone to this extreme.

“For them to lockout all members – it’s harsh. We’re disappointed it’s come to that point,” she says.

Another member, who doesn’t wish to be named, says her family struggles to pay the bills even though she and her husband both work, and taking action is the only way to get the attention of Lifewise.

“Striking is the only way to get more money for my family,” she says.

Members of the Methodist church and family members of those receiving care have also strongly criticised the lockout move from Lifewise and are “deeply concerned” about the organisation’s treatment of members during the current dispute.

A church member says: “The Methodist Church has a strong culture of social justice and fairness. I am deeply ashamed of Lifewise’s behaviour.”

An E tū Director Kirsty McCully says in New Zealand, low-paid care workers shouldn’t have to go on strike to win hours they can survive on, or to know when they will be working from week to week.

“The employment model in homecare is broken, and these workers are bearing the brunt of it,” Kirsty says.

“Now, a ruthless employer, usually known for its good work in the community, is pushing its own workforce to the poverty line with a lockout which would see workers without income.

“However, the workers have said they are steadfast and will stick together until they achieve a fair deal at Lifewise.”

Lifewise members will be picketing on Saturday 23 January and Monday 25 January at 227 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden from 7am-11am, and striking from Saturday to Monday.

ENDS

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

Lifewise strike: complaints about care quality, Methodist Church members concerned

Lifewise homecare workers continue their action to win a fair collective agreement which protects quality care at the Auckland-based homecare provider, taking strike action from 6am-9pm tomorrow (Wednesday) and picketing outside their employer’s premises at 227 Mount Eden Road from 7am until 11:30am.

Family members have started to complain to the Auckland District Health Board in support of the reasonable demands of the workers but are unhappy about the poor coordination of care from Lifewise, and the increased turnover of long serving employees due to their working environment and low hours.

In addition to client complaints, members of the Methodist Church, of which Lifewise is a part, have begun to express their concern that the homecare arm of The Lifewise Trust is failing its employees and clients.

“It’s a shame to me that Lifewise is not responding to the direct concerns of homecare workers about their low hours which keep them in poverty,” says an Auckland lay preacher who prefers to remain anonymous.

“It’s up to those of us in the church who feel strongly about the social justice principles to make the church step up and practice what it preaches,” she says.                                                                                                                                     

“I and a number of my colleagues will be taking this up within all the channels available to us – within our Synods, with our church ministers, and with our church representatives.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says that the homecare workers are taking their stand for themselves, but also for future generations of homecare workers.

“They can’t survive on the hours they’re receiving and the model at Lifewise is set up to keep employees in poverty, shouldering all the financial risk for the organisation,” she says.

ENDS

All are invited to the picket tomorrow at 227 Mount Eden Road from 7am until 11:30am. Members of the Methodist Church will be attending the picket.

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

E tū condemns arrests of Hong Kong democracy activists

E tū has joined New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister, global unions and others in condemning the arrest this week of over 50 prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.

Among those arrested was aviation worker Carol Ng, the chair of the Hong Kong Council of Trade Unions and former general secretary of the British Airways Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association. Carol was released last night but the arrests are part of an ongoing and escalating intimidation of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.

E tū spokesperson Sam Huggard says the union extends its solidarity to Carol and other trade union and democracy activists.

“An attack on democracy is an attack on ordinary working people and communities and cannot be tolerated. We join with others in condemning this move and call on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to stop this intimidation immediately,” Sam says.

The detentions were made by local police, under the controversial National Security Law, for trying to “overthrow” the government by holding primary elections for pro-democracy candidates in last year’s postponed elections.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Sam Huggard, 021 462 148