Category: Aged care

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