Month: July 2020

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