Author: E tū

Member organisers at the heart of an organising union

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 experience

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.

Reflections

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.

Heritage bargaining update: The Heritage Way? Good news, bad news, and work to do!

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).

Thanks!

Aged care workers highlight need for urgent reform with international action day

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.”

ENDS

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

Workers celebrate Labour’s new workplace policies

The Labour Party’s Workplace Relations and Safety policy release today will see workers across the country being much better off.

Policies announced include doubling minimum sick leave entitlements, continued minimum wage increases, implementing Fair Pay Agreements, and job protection for security guards.

Mareta Sinoti, a cleaner at the National Library, says that the extra sick leave is desperately needed, “especially in winter as people always get sick”.

“I work in a public area where we are careful about keeping people safe, especially with COVID-19 we are always cleaning and sanitising workplaces as part of our job. 

“It will be better for everyone when Labour give workers more sick leave so that we can look after our health and our families properly.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that the next government needs to prioritise Fair Pay Agreements, in the first 100 days, as a part of our economic recovery.

“Workers’ wages must lead the COVID-19 recovery. Labour’s policy goes some way towards ensuring that we stop the ‘race to the bottom’ for some of our most vulnerable workers.

“Fair Pay Agreements are a big part of that picture. We are one of the few countries in the OECD without a framework for sector-wide bargaining, and we need to catch up.

“The experience of COVID-19 has reminded us that workers need to be properly engaged in decision making at every level. That’s what Fair Pay Agreements are all about.”

ENDS

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

More Air New Zealand redundancies proposed, but airline refuses to end outsourcing

E tū calls on the country’s national carrier to halt outsourcing in the wake of fresh cabin crew redundancy proposals.

On Wednesday, Air New Zealand announced its proposal to make around 385 cabin crew redundant by December, as part of its plans to cut staff numbers further.

However, the company is continuing to outsource work, retaining an agreement with a cabin crew hire company in Shanghai.

An E tū member who wishes to remain anonymous says the redundancy proposal is “devastating” for crew, with the state of the industry wreaking havoc on their ability to earn a living.

“Every time as cabin crew, we think we are going to get a reprieve and get back to doing what we love – we keep getting hit down.

“We’ve already lost 900 mid-to-long haul crew. We want to see Air New Zealand flourish and we want to save New Zealand jobs. Our goal is to see the airline bounce back as quickly as it can, so we can start getting our colleagues back,” they say.

“We constantly ask why the [Shanghai] base is still going, and it is something we will be trying to deal with through this process.”

Another E tū member, also anonymous, says the situation seems like “a rollercoaster ride that doesn’t seem to stop” and will inevitably create issues related to personal and financial wellbeing, particularly for crew that have spent most of their careers at Air New Zealand.

“Crew want to be able to move forward. Some feel this isn’t about the company getting into ‘revive mode’, but rather like a race to the bottom – trying to get crew on minimal salaries using the excuse of COVID-19.”

E tū head of aviation, Savage, says while crew can see the damage COVID-19 has done to the aviation sector, there is no operational reason for Air New Zealand to retain a crew base in Shanghai.

“The Shanghai base has always been about paying crew less and devaluing the role of cabin crew. Outsourcing is a barrier to raising standards in aviation and it needs to end.

“When the work comes back, it needs to come back to Auckland-based cabin crew,” he says.

“For the company to focus on immediate labour costs, without taking into account the bigger picture, is short-sighted and damaging to all aviation workers.”

Savage says the airline and the jobs it provides are a vital piece of New Zealand’s infrastructure.

“The Government’s new approach to procurement – to help create jobs for those most affected by COVID-19 – is something Air New Zealand needs to follow. Creating skilled jobs and training the future generations of airline workers and cabin crew is essential to our economy.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Savage, 027 590 0074

Labour’s Living Wage policy “real victory” for low wage workers

E tū congratulates the Labour Party for saying yes to a Living Wage for all contracted workers in government.

The Government currently pays the Living Wage to all workers in the public service. However, the new policy would see contractors, such as cleaners, security guards and caterers, now included.

It was announced by the party’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson, Andrew Little, and Economic Development spokesperson, Phil Twyford, at E tū in Auckland on Saturday.

E tū member Rose Kavapalu, who has worked for 15 years as a cleaner on just above minimum wage, says she is so thankful to Labour for promising a Living Wage for her and all cleaners in the sector.

“I’ll only have to work one job, and I’ll have more time to spend with my family and my grandkids.

“With the Living Wage, I’ll be able to pay my debt – that’s why I had to move in with my parents because I couldn’t afford [to live].”

Fellow E tū member and security guard Fa’atalatala Matamu says it was 12 years since her last pay rise, before the Government delivered the Living Wage to all guards at the Ministry of Social Development from September 1.

“Before we were struggling, we had to work long hours. I’m humbled to stand in front of you today and say ‘thank you, Labour’ for the pay rise.

“Now I’m able to pay off all my debts – as I had been taking loan after loan, just to survive. Doing a job for so many years that wasn’t paid enough to afford my own home – I’m [now] looking at that one as well.

“I’ll be able to save money, to help my grandkids who I haven’t been able to spend much on, because of the low wage that we receive.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary and National Convenor of Living Wage Movement Annie Newman says the policy has been “a long time coming” for thousands of cleaners, security guards, and catering workers who currently live in poverty and work excessive hours just to make ends meet.

“In the COVID-19 recovery, the economy needs workers purchasing goods and services and that will only happen if they are paid a decent wage. Every dollar our members earn goes straight back into the local economy and that’s good for everyone,” she says.

“Finally, we are seeing a policy that values essential workers who are ensuring the health and safety of the rest of us during these difficult times.

“They are putting their lives on the line for us and should be receiving a decent income that enables them to be full participants in society – it’s only fair.”

Annie says the policy is a “real victory” for all the workers and the communities that want to put an end to a low wage economy.

“Once the Government shows leadership in paying a Living Wage to all their workers, we know standards will shift in other sectors across the board.”

ENDS

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

The Struggle for Relevant Daily Pay

By John Ryall, former E tū Assistant National Secretary

It seems obvious that if you are forced to have a day off sick you should be paid from your employer what you would have normally received if you had worked on that day.

However, this has not always been the case and it has only been through an amendment to the Holidays Act in 2003 that a separate right to sick leave of 5 days a year was created and that this was to be paid at “relevant daily pay”.

Not many people will realise though that 20 years before then the orderlies at Wellington, Hutt and Silverstream Hospitals fought for the same right.

The orderlies were then employed under the New Zealand Hospital Domestic Workers Award, which up until 1979 awarded them 10 days sick leave per year to be paid at ordinary pay.

The orderlies worked six days a week and their sixth day always occurred on either Saturday or Sunday at Wellington Hospital and at the other hospitals could occur on any day of the week depending on the roster. They were required to work the six days. If they were sick on any of their first five rostered days they would be paid eight hours at their ordinary hourly rate and if they were sick on their sixth day they would be paid nothing.

Despite the occasional grumble that they should be paid sick leave for all six days the roster worked well.

Award Sick Leave Changes

In 1979 the Hospital Boards agreed to a union claim to replace the Award sick leave clause with another one that appeared in most employment agreements in the state service. This gave the orderlies a more generous entitlement with an accumulation of untaken sick leave up to 365 days.

However, the more generous entitlement came with a catch. If you were a Monday to Friday worker and were sick for a week then you were paid five days sick leave but lost seven days from your entitlement.

Clause 14 (a) of the Award provided:

Where an employee is granted leave of absence on account of sickness or injury not arising out of and in the course of his employment he shall be entitled to full pay according to the scale set out in the schedule hereunder.

And clause 14 (d) provided:

Sick leave with full pay for each period allowed shall be reckoned in consecutive days inclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays.

Before the ink was even dry on the newly printed Award Wellington Hospital orderlies started complaining about the non-payment of sick leave on their sixth shift, which always occurred on either a Saturday or Sunday.

Their complaint was that if they were sick on a Friday and a Monday then the new Award removed an entitlement of four days, but they were only paid sick leave for two days rather than the three days for which they were arguing payment.

The Wellington Hospital Personnel Manager wrote to the Wellington Hospital Board Industrial Relations Manager Rino Tirikatene, who responded

Should Wellington Hospital conditionally require orderly staff to be permanently engaged on a six day shift weekly roster then each one of those six working days becomes applicable for sick leave with pay providing such staff have genuine sick leave and an adequate number of days entitlement

Issue Won’t Go Away

Despite this memo nothing was done and when I commenced work as an organiser in June 1982 the sick leave issue was still bubbling away.

The Wellington Hospital orderlies raised the issue again with the hospital management in 1983 but were told that they didn’t have to work the sixth day if they did not want to.

In 1984 the power dynamic changed with the election of some new active Wellington Hospital orderly delegates, who were not scared to take direct action to fix outstanding grievances.

A number of strikes were held over the re-negotiation of the Award and despite the head delegate Alan Wakefield being dismissed, the compulsory conference held to determine the outcome of his dismissal also heard stories of the orderly’s sick leave grievance.

In July 1985 the Wellington Hospital Deputy Director of Administration agreed to part of the claim. While the payment of sick leave for the sixth shift was not agreed, the Wellington Hospital Board would not in future deduct this shift off the orderly’s sick leave entitlement.

This move did not shut the issue down but gave it more steam.

In September 1985 the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union wrote to the Department of Labour for their opinion on payment of sick leave for the sixth shift under the NZ Hospital Domestic Workers Award. Their response supported the union view that the orderlies should be paid.

The Department of Labour opinion, which was circulated far and wide across the Wellington Hospital Board workforce, shook the Board managers.

Union Proposes Disputes Committee

The union, picking up on this state of affairs, proposed to the Wellington Hospital Board that the union and board should urgently meet as a Disputes Committee, with an agreed chair, put forward both sides in the dispute and allow the chair to issue a decision which would not be appealable.

In November 1985 the Board wrote to the union and agreed for a Disputes Committee Chair to give advice to the parties but not to make a binding, non-appealable decision on the matter.

The Board though did agree that if any orderly was absent through illness on a Friday and a Monday then in future they would be paid at ordinary rates of pay three sick days and not two.

This offer was taken back to the Wellington, Hutt and Silverstream Hospital orderlies and was unanimously rejected. The demands had hardened up and there was going to be no settlement without the payment of overtime when sick on the sixth day and the orderlies threatened to go on strike unless their demands were met.

Wellington Hospital orderlies delegate Jock McMahon posed the key question:

“Why do we have to lose pay when we are sick? We are a hospital caring for sick people and we should be paid for our sick leave the amount we would have earned if we had not been sick. We don’t want to be forced back to work when we are sick because we cannot afford to be off work.”

The threats of strike action led to an early meeting of the Disputes Committee, under Chairman Jim Newman, but no resolution was arrived at. After some delay the chairman referred the matter to the Arbitration Court in June 1986.

The Arbitration Court heard the case in October 1987 and sought to answer two questions:

  1. If a worker employed under the Award is granted leave of absence due to sickness under clause 14 and if that worker is required to work a six day week as a team of his or her employment, does the employer have to pay sick pay for the sixth day?
  2. If the answer to the question is yes, is the amount the board has to pay defined as “full pay” under the same clause, the amount the worker would have earned had he or she been working that day?

The union was represented by lawyer Sandra Moran. It was the first time I had seen Sandra in action. She was relatively small, very well dressed and looked like she would not hurt a fly. However, she had a steely tone to her voice that cut like a rapier and her cross-examination was so ruthless the employer witnesses just wanted to agree with everything she said in order to quickly depart the witness stand.

The Court took just less than two weeks to deliver its judgement in writing, affirming that the orderlies were required to work a 48 hour week and when sick must be paid “the monies he or she would have received had he/she performed his/her normal work on his/her sixth day on the roster irrespective of the day of the week on which the sixth day happens to fall.”

Attention Turns to Other Workers

While the union focussed on organising around the six year’s backpay for the Wellington, Hutt and Silverstream Hospital orderlies and other workers (such as a group of Wellington Hospital cleaners who worked a six-day week), it also turned its attention to other workers who were not receiving “full pay” when they were sick. This included public hospital orderlies, cleaners and food service workers who were sick on public holidays and weekends (where it was not their sixth shift) both in Wellington and throughout the country.

The actions of the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union to extend the case beyond the sixth-shift orderlies was not without controversy both within the Hotel and Hospital Workers Federation and amongst other unions.

While the words of Wellington Hospital orderlies delegate Jock McMahon portrayed a simple concept of sickness not automatically leading to a reduction in pay others saw the concept as too radical and challenging, perhaps because of the potential cost to the public health system of six-years backpay for tens of thousands of health workers, including doctors and nurses.

The Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union returned to the Labour Court in October 1988 on behalf of a weekend cleaner and a kitchenhand on a rotating roster that included work on the weekends. Both these workers were paid ordinary pay when sick on the weekends. They claimed that “full pay” included their weekend penal rates and other allowances in addition to their ordinary pay.

Judge Castle, who had also heard the earlier case, said in his judgement that extending the full pay argument beyond six-day workers was “inevitable” and ruled that it was not proper to interpret “full pay” as anything else than the “agreed contracted pay with the worker”.

Both the newly created Area Health Boards and the hospital contractors refused to settle the 1990 NZ Hospital and Area Health Boards Domestic Workers Award without the elimination of the words “full pay” from the sick leave clause, the abolition of the travel time clause and the removal of the union veto over the employment of part-time workers.

With the writing on the wall for the fourth Labour Government and the National Party already secretly drafting the Employment Contracts Act, the union conceded full pay providing all members received hundreds of thousands of dollars in backpay and the date for its removal was extended out to 26 August 1992, which co-incidentally was the day after the expiry of the last national award.

While hospital workers had to wait another 11 years before the fifth Labour Government amended the Holidays Act to allow for relevant daily pay rather than ordinary pay for sick leave, the change would not have been possible unless the Wellington Hospital orderlies had identified an injustice and fought for its removal.

Labour’s tax policy: “It’s about time!”

E tū congratulates the Labour Party for their tax policy, which will see the top two percent of income earners and multinational corporations paying a fairer share.

A new top tax of 39% will kick in for every dollar earnt over $180,000, and the party has committed to working with the OECD to find a solution to the issue of multi-national corporations not paying their share of tax.

E tū National Executive member and Senior Gardener at the University of Auckland, Jason Fell, is pleased with the news.

“I’m very happy. I think it’s a good start, and it’s about time!” Jason says.

“When you look at how long it has been since any progressive tax changes, it’s clearly the time for action. We need to slow down the inequality that hurts our communities across the country.

“And if you’re a person who earns over $180,000 and objects to paying a little bit more to help your fellow New Zealanders, well that’s just a joke in itself.

“I think taxation is the price that civilised communities pay for the opportunity to remain civilised. I’m happy to pay my fair share, and I’m pleased that those at the top will start paying a fairer share as well.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that the Labour Party’s policy announcements are off to a good start.

“A new public holiday and a fairer tax system are both excellent policies for workers in New Zealand,” Annie says.

“Our members in the media and communications industries will be celebrating the international cooperation to address the way that big digital platform owners, such as Google and Facebook, skirt local tax obligations.

“We are looking forward to more progressive policy from the Labour Party during this election campaign, including a recommitment to the Living Wage, Fair Pay Agreements, and a strong industrial relations policy that will improve the lives of working people their families.”

ENDS

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

Grey Power, PSA and E tū launch campaign for home support with dignity

The unions representing home care and support workers have joined forces with the association for New Zealanders over 50, launching a campaign to fix our country’s fragmented and failing home support system.

Members of the Public Service Association and E tū have this week begun holding nationwide meetings, and have as a first step launched an online petition that calls on politicians across the political spectrum to take action.

The campaign is called “They Deserve the Best”, and further actions will be announced in coming weeks depending on Covid restrictions and the response from politicians.

Home care and support is publicly funded by DHBs, the Ministry of Health and ACC, but provided by a web of for-profit companies and charitable NGOs.

The petition urges politicians to overhaul the home support system and commit to:

·  Investing in home support services which enable high quality care and support for our most vulnerable, so people who need support services can continue to live with dignity in their own homes.

·  Decent jobs for home support workers. This means permanent regular shifts like other health workers have, hours and income which don’t fluctuate all the time, a proper wage for travel time, and genuine access to breaks so our jobs can be safe.

Donna Wealleans is a Tauranga-based support worker and PSA union delegate. Last week she was only offered two hours of work.

“I can’t explain what’s going on, but it’s clear the system doesn’t work. Our union negotiated a guaranteed hours agreement that means I’ll still get paid enough for last week to get by, but it doesn’t make any sense that I would get so few hours while other colleagues are given almost more than they can handle,” she says.

“It’s one example among many of how broken this system is. The only thing that keeps me coming back to this work is how much I care about my clients. They need support workers to help them keep living in their own homes, and that’s what keeps us going.”

Support workers have prepared a series of videos in which they share their experiences of the job and discuss what could be done to improve their lives, and those of their clients.

These videos will be released in the coming days on the PSA and E tū Facebook pages.

Napier’s Tamara Baddeley has been a support worker for about 20 years, but the E tū union member struggles to achieve work-life balance with the demands of a difficult and undervalued profession.

“It’s time for change, and frankly it’s long overdue. We are essential health workers and all we want is the respect and decent treatment that should go with that,” she says.

“All through lockdown, support workers went house to house, often without the PPE we needed to keep us and our clients safe. We are sick and tired of being treated like we’re expendable, and it’s time for the Government who funds our work to step up and fix the problems with it.”

Roy Reid is President of Grey Power in his home turf of Golden Bay, and Treasurer of the national organisation.

A Queen’s Service Medal recipient, his concerns about New Zealand’s home support system are informed by conversations with the former support worker who for years visited his wife at home for an hour every week.

“The same problems can directly impact on both support workers and their clients, some of whom are Grey Power members. I know of support workers who had to leave the job because they can’t tolerate the hurdles, hassles and injustices any more, and when that happens, a client can lose someone they’ve built a relationship with over many years,” he says.

“Our organisation is deeply worried by reports of home support clients having their hours cut. With some DHBs starting to propose significant overall budget cuts, we worry this could flow on to make life hard for the New Zealanders over 50 who rely on home support. It’s time to take a stand.”