Month: August 2021

E tū Komiti Pasefika calls for unity

The E tū Komiti Pasefika is calling for unity and kindness as Aotearoa bands together once again to eliminate COVID-19 in our community.

The latest outbreak has affected Pacific Island families in particular, which has resulted in a rise in racism, particularly on social media.

E tū National Executive and Komiti Pasefika member Gadiel Asiata says he is proud of the steps his whole community are taking to combat COVID-19.

“Our Pacific Island communities have pulled together to do our bit,” Gadiel says.

“We know that we can’t let this pandemic win. We know it’s important to stay calm, stay home, wear a mask, and adhere to the rules.

“I live with my elderly mother, and with how dangerous the Delta strain is, I know how important it is to stay home to keep my family safe. Many Pasefika people in South Auckland live with their elderly relatives – we know the stakes.

“We can’t let this pandemic divide us.”

Gadiel says that the Government should take any opportunities to work with the Pasefika community to fight the pandemic.

“We have been calling for vaccination stations to be set up at churches and give our community leaders the tools to get our people protected. A good plan needs to be by the community, for the community.”

E tū organiser Fala Haulangi says the backlash against the Pasefika community has left her feeling upset.

“I feel really hurt for my people, as once again there is a narrative out there blaming our Pasefika people instead of blaming COVID-19,” Fala says.

“Our public health officials have praised the Pasefika community for doing the right thing – we are proud of our efforts. We are a very collective community. It is in our DNA and upbringing to always look out for each other.

“So many of our essential workers are Pasefika people as well, they are really holding things together. We need to be so grateful for their work and we owe them heaps.

“We just need to be kind to each other as we fight to stamp out COVID again. Kia kaha, Aotearoa! We have done it before, we can surely do it again!”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Fala Haulangi, 027 204 6332

E tū: No nonsense from big business this lockdown

E tū says it won’t be sitting by if big corporates try to shirk their duty to pay workers their proper wages during the Alert Level 4 lockdown.

Last year, E tū was concerned by some major companies that accepted the Government’s wage subsidy but treated workers badly – cutting wages, making them use annual leave, and layoffs – and still turned a profit.

A worker from a large infrastructure company that was among those that claimed the most from the Government says so far there’s been no news of what’s happening with their pay this lockdown.

“It’s shaping up to be the same as last year. They are avoiding us – not getting in touch with workers,” he says.

The man says last year workers in his department initially agreed to a pay cut of around 20%, deeming it a reasonable request under the circumstances.

That was, until they found out the company intended to pay them 20% less – not of their normal, much higher, wage, but of an average base rate.

He says it amounted to about a 50% pay cut overall and the situation bred distrust: “People weren’t happy about it. There was a just the feeling of unfairness.”

Some workers have heavy financial commitments – such as supporting family overseas, paying for medical care, or are the sole providers in their families – and couldn’t afford to take such a huge cut in pay, he says.

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says companies need to honour employment law and pay their workers as agreed in their collective agreements or individual employment contracts.

“Workers in Aotearoa New Zealand pulled us through this crisis last time, and a lot of the large companies that were ‘down and out’ went on to record big profits.

“We’re not going to tolerate workers not being paid what has been agreed to in their collective agreements.”

Joe says it’s unacceptable for companies to take advantage of the situation to get away with paying their workers less, leaving them dependent on legal measures to recoup what they should have been paid in the first place.

“Companies need to honour and respect employment law – do the right thing now and pay workers 100%.”

ENDS

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

‘Do the right thing’ union says, after workers report reduced pay or annual leave requests

E tū says all employers in Aotearoa New Zealand must pay their workers 100% of their wages during the national lockdown period.

During the March 2020 lockdown and other elevated Alert Level periods, the union dealt with many cases where workers had to accept reduced pay or use their annual leave to get paid – even when employers were being supported by the Government’s wage subsidy.

E tū delegate Josephine Wiredu, a cleaner at Auckland’s City Council who normally works around 55 hours a week, was sent home from work on Tuesday night as the country prepared to go into lockdown.

She and her colleagues have been told not to come in during Alert Level 4, and don’t yet have any guarantees about whether they’ll receive their full wages during this time.

Josephine, who is paid at the Living Wage rate, says any drop in income would be a “big blow”.

“Our employer only paid the 80% last year during the second lockdown, as they were no longer eligible for the wage subsidy. But they paid this from their own pocket,” she says.

“They have applied for the wage subsidy again now, but we don’t know what will happen yet. At the same time, we still need to pay our bills no matter what, so the decision will affect our families.”

Another delegate and cleaner, who doesn’t wish to be named and also works at the council for a different contractor, says workers are fully entitled to be paid 100% of their wages.

“Nobody knew that lockdown would be happening again, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Lockdown doesn’t stop our rent or power money going out.

“We signed a contract with our employer, they must keep to it,” she says.

Last year, the cleaner, who usually works more than 60 hours a week, says she was forced to use savings when her income during lockdown dropped to around 70% of her usual pay.

She doesn’t know how her pay will be affected this time, but in her role as a supervisor, she’s already had to refuse a request from management asking her to get colleagues to sign a form agreeing to use their annual leave during this lockdown.

E tū organiser Yvette Taylor says the union is also hearing from members in similar situations: being asked to take leave or agree to reduced pay.

“It is unacceptable that, through no fault of their own, some workers are having to bear the financial brunt of the lockdown.

“For someone on low pay, not being paid their full wages causes a financial crisis, because there’s no money to spare week to week.

“A cut in pay means not being able to pay rents, keep the lights on, and pay for essentials for kids. Sometimes it also means taking on high interest debt just to get by.”

Yvette says employers need to value the work their workers are doing – many of whom will be providing essential services as soon as the country is out of Alert Level 4.

“As soon as the alert levels drop, many other essential workers will be expected to be straight back to work – workers like cleaners who will expected to give everything a deep clean, so the rest of us feel safe going back to public spaces.

“We should be valuing this work by ensuring they are paid 100%, not just turning the tap off and on during alert level changes.”

ENDS

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

Your work rights at Alert Level 4

You will have heard about the new COVID-19 cases in our community.

The Prime Minister has announced an Alert Level 4 lockdown, starting at 11.59pm last night for seven days in Auckland and Coromandel, and for three days everywhere else.

It is extremely important that we comply with official instructions. We know that Alert Level 4 means that we have to stay home to stay safe – click here to refresh your mind about the Alert Level 4 restrictions.

E tū has planned for any Alert Level increases. We are closely monitoring the latest developments and will make sure all E tū members are well informed and well represented as we get through this period.

In the meantime, here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. Do not sign any variations to your contract

Some employers may ask their workers to sign something that changes their employment conditions in response to Alert Level changes, such as agreeing to reduced pay. Do not sign this.

Instead, let them know that you will talk to your union first. Then contact your delegate, or E tū Support by emailing [email protected] or calling 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466).

2. You may only work during Alert Level 4 if you are an essential worker

Many E tū members are essential workers – we thank them for their hard work during this period. The rest of us need to stay home and stay safe.

There is a limited list of essential businesses that are able to operate under Alert Level 4. Your employer should be in touch if you are required to work your normal shift. If not, stay home.

3. You should not have to lose any pay or have to use your leave during lockdown

E tū’s position is that your boss has to pay you for your normal hours of work while we are in lockdown. They should not require you to use any of your leave.

The Government has set up various programmes to help your employer meet their costs, such as as the wage subsidy.

4. The union is here to help with any employment issues you have

E tū Support will be open for calls and emails during normal hours, even at Alert Level 4.

Get in touch with us for any advice or representation you may need regarding anything happening at your workplace.

Contact E tū Support by emailing [email protected] or calling 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466).

5. There are contingency plans for holding safe Biennial Membership Meetings online

You may be aware that our Biennial Membership Meetings (BMMs) are scheduled for September and October.

Although the current Alert Level increase does not affect any BMMs, we are prepared for the possibility than in-person meetings cannot go ahead.

We will communicate about this as we learn more, but we can be hopeful that BMMs may continue as scheduled.

6. Stay informed by following the official channels

The best and most accurate information about the COVID-19 response can always be found at www.covid19.govt.nz and by listening to the official announcements.

Look after your families and yourselves. Thank you for being an E tū member.

‘Just Transition’ plan essential as refinery closure vote passes

E tū strongly advocates for a Just Transition in the face of a shareholder vote in favour of closing the oil refinery to create an import-only terminal at Marsden Point.

Around 300 workers who are directly employed and several hundred contractors will likely lose their jobs or be affected when their workforce is downsized to just 60 workers, when the refinery becomes a storage facility for imported refined oil.

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the situation at Marsden Point is similar to Taranaki and Tiwai and a Just Transition proposition is needed in this region.

“The vote by shareholders to close the refinery comes as a blow for a region where unemployment is already high. There’s also the flow-on effect to other local businesses and contractors, which will be significant.

“Marsden Point is facing the same issue as other towns built around manufacturing hubs, and there needs to be a plan to deal with any kind of transition,” she says.

Annie says the carbon footprint of importing refined oil, as well as the impact that closure will have on the country’s fuel security, are also important aspects to consider.

“If we are serious about securing a future for workers and our transition to a carbon-neutral society, then we absolutely need a Just Transition plan for Northland.

“It would require a commitment from shareholders, local and central Government to that transition plan, to manufacture alternative energies with a lower carbon footprint.”

Annie says local Government will also need to review the current resource consent as part of any future Just Transition proposal.

“The resource consent granted to Refining NZ in 2020 for a further 35 years does not seem to be in keeping with the goal of a carbon-neutral society.”

A final decision about the closure will be made by the board in September.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

Blog: Riding the Neo-Liberal Tiger

By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū

Working as a public hospital orderly, food service worker or cleaner in 1991 was not a very exciting job but was critical to the effective functioning of the public hospital system.

Workers employed in these roles by the Wellington Area Health Board were mainly of Maori or Pasifika origin and through their cultural bonds, their union and their solidarity had developed the hospitals into secure and enjoyable places to work.

The only exception were the Wellington Hospital cleaners, whose work had been contracted out since the 1940s and had to face a three-yearly cycle of re-tendering, which could mean their jobs disappearing or their working hours being reduced.

Even the restructuring of the public health service in the 1980s, with the downsizing of psychiatric hospitals, the privatisation of continuing care and the closure of some smaller facilities had not changed their jobs very much and the processes negotiated with their union had ensured that they had input into every change that occurred.

In the 1990s a double attack on this work occurred through the National Government introduction of the Employment Contracts Act, which destroyed nationally consistent pay rates and employment conditions in public hospitals, and the so-called health reforms, which set up the public hospitals as competing business units (Crown Health Enterprises) bidding for contracts from four regional public funding authorities.

The Crown Health Enterprises (CHEs) were established as wholly-owned Crown companies and their boards were made up of people who had private business experience, with almost none having any experience in the public health and disability system. The CHE management teams were appointed on a similar basis, with our local Capital and Coast Health CHE Chief Executive and Human Resources General Manager both coming from Telecom.

The Service Workers Union members employed in the Wellington hospitals did not notice much difference initially although they were notified that the Area Health Board’s Facilities General Manager, John Dixon, had left his employment to form a company called Tempo Health Support, a company that would later have a big impact on their working lives.

John Dixon had previously worked for one of the cleaning contractors and then became the Hutt District Manager of the Wellington Area Health Board. He was a strong advocate for more competition in health and organised lucrative weekend seminars for aspiring health managers in which they played games pretending that they were representing designated public and private health providers competing for public funding.

One of the Hutt District managers, who was appalled by the pending competitive model of healthcare, commented to me that John Dixon was so captured by the game that he thought he could be a winner if he could set up the right service provider.

New manager steps in

John Dixon was replaced in July 1993 by one of his lieutenants, Walter Baumann, who did not have a health sector background, although had worked since 1990 in the Area Health Board facilities department in charge of maintenance services.

Although he admitted later to the Employment Court that he had no specialist knowledge about orderlies, food services or cleaning, he was driven by a strategy of savings in so-called “non-core” services to put more money into medical services. He called it “medical dollars”.

Almost immediately from the time of his appointment as Facilities General Manager he was reviewing options for saving money including contracting the services out. He held a “brainstorming session” with his senior managers, and they agreed that contracting the services out was a good option, even though as he later told the Employment Court, he had no direct personal experience of contracting out.

He approached various contractor companies for expressions of interest in taking over the Capital and Coast CHE orderly, food and cleaning services. This included the newly formed Tempo Health Support.

He knew that the Service Workers Union employment agreement, and the previous Area Health Board protocols, required him to notify the union of any review of services. However, as he later told the Employment Court, he saw these agreements as a “roadblock” to running an effective business, so decided to ignore them.

In late September 1993 the union received calls from hospital members reporting that Walter Baumann had met with them and told them that he was “considering options” for the future of their services, which would include various contracting companies visiting their worksites to have a look at their work.

I contacted Walter Baumann, who denied that any review of services was taking place and said he was merely throwing a few ideas around. I wrote to him seeking an undertaking to cease the review until such time as the union was notified and a mechanism for union involvement was agreed.

On 30 September Walter Baumann, having failed to give the union an undertaking, put out a media statement saying that the CHE was looking for ways to save money in “non-core services” through carrying out services differently.

This was enough for us. The Service Workers Union filed an application in the Employment Court for an interim injunction against the CHE to restrain any further work on the review until such time as the CHE complied with the union employment agreement and the previous Area Health Board protocols.

The application seemed to have the required effect and the CHE agreed to formally initiate a review of orderly, cleaning and catering services with the involvement of the union. This was done on 6 October 1993.

Covert behaviour

On 21 October 1993 I met with two facility services managers and agreed on a mechanism for the review, which would include joint work on the service specifications, a transparent tendering process and once a preferred tenderer was selected a meeting between the union and the CHE to compare the contractor’s proposal with the current in-house provision so hopefully a joint recommendation could be made to Walter Baumann.

While our meeting was taking place to agree on a mechanism for union involvement, Walter Baumann was, as the Employment Court later described it, covertly presenting a proposal to the CHE board. This proposal was to not proceed with a tender, but to support the contracting out of the services to Tempo Health Support.

Without any knowledge of the CHE board’s decision union delegates worked with the facility service managers on the tender specifications, which we thought was to be let in December 1993. We did not know that all our work was in vain, as the decision about the contracting out and preferred contractor had already been made.

From December onwards all communication with Walter Baumann and his team ceased despite numerous calls from the union. On 24 February 1994 new cook-chill carts appeared at Kenepuru Hospital and the food service workers were told they were converting from a cook-fresh to cook-chill system, an option that had not been a specific part of the tender.

An angry threat of union legal action led Walter Baumann to announcing a 1 March meeting to discuss “the next stage of the review”. While the union representatives thought the meeting was to discuss the comparison between the preferred tenderer and the current service, Walter Baumann opened the meeting to announce that the CHE had  awarded the contract for their hospital cleaning, food services and orderlies (at Kenepuru Hospital only) to Tempo Health Support. He then proceeded to introduce Chief Executive of Tempo Health Support, John Dixon, and said the union should talk to him about the transfer of the required staff over to their new employment.

The union was blindsided by this turn of events and realising that the contract was due to start by the end of April 1994 immediately convened meetings with members to discuss the union options.

Members were worried about their jobs, concerned about cook-chill and concerned about the maintenance of their employment conditions during any transfer. Some members wanted to leave provided they were paid redundancy pay while others wanted to fight against the CHE and not let the contracting out take place. Some even blamed the union, believing a deal had been done with the CHE. It was a difficult job working out a union strategy given the divergent member views.

After long discussions the union delegates recommended to members that we should all transfer over to the contractor, that we should seek CHE agreement for the maintenance of all employment conditions during this transfer and subsequent transfers and that the union should submit personal grievances for every member who had been affected by the CHE contracting out decision.

Walter Baumann disappears

Within two weeks of his announcement of the awarding of the contract to Tempo Health Support Walter Baumann was dismissed from his employment at the CHE for reasons that have never been revealed.

Ongoing discussions took place with the CHE management about the transfer of employment and while they agreed that all employment conditions would be maintained during the initial transfer to Tempo Health Support they would make no commitments about transfers if the CHE decided to change contractors in the future.

The first stage of the transfer was due to occur at Kenepuru and Porirua Hospitals with the cleaning and food service workers. On the first day of the transfer all workers were expected to sign-on for employment with Tempo Health Support before they commenced work. While the workers all turned up at their start times they refused to start work or sign-on for employment with Tempo Health Support until the union’s demands for security of employment were met.

The sit-down action brought things to a head very quickly. It was a brave step to take with a lot of risks, but the workers were angry at the way they had been treated and this anger gave them strength.

After CHE threats of dismissals and injunctions (given the workers were no longer employed by the CHE it was difficult to dismiss them or injunct them) they realised that there was no food being produced, so quickly adopted a more conciliatory tone and signed an agreement guaranteeing the continuation of the workers’ employment conditions during this contract change and any future contract changes.

Given that New Zealand workers would not gain the legal protection of maintaining conditions in a transfer from one employer to another until 10 years later this was a great victory, which built solidarity amongst the workers going into an uncertain employment with a new employer.

Personal grievances raised

The next day the personal grievances against the CHE and Tempo Health Support were raised on behalf of nearly 200 union members.

Tempo Health Support, later morphing into Tempo DNC Health Support, had a tumultuous two years in the Capital and Coast CHE services until it went into liquidation leaving the CHE to take the orderlies back in-house and, with few providers to choose from, to mothball the cook-chill equipment and transfer the food service and cleaning services to another contractor on a cost-plus basis.

The personal grievance claims, headed up by union delegates Mihi-Tuarangi Andersen, Randall Peterson, Martha Crawford, Jane Butler, Faye McVicar and Falanika Siania, slowly moved their way through the courts, although it took five years, one strike-out application and two interlocutory hearings before their big day arrived.

On 19 October 1999 the Employment Court hearing opened with a prayer by Union Pasifika Convenor Elizabeth Lee-lo in front of a court room packed with union members and their families. Judge Coral Shaw gave a wry smile as Aunty Liz asked God to recognise the poor workers and give the judge wisdom to make the right decision.

The court heard evidence from 15 worker witnesses and from myself on behalf of the union. My evidence took a full day with most of the cross-examination around diary notes from my meeting with the CHE managers, which had been the subject of forensic examination at the instigation of the CHE.

The court case took 11 days finishing just before Christmas 1994, with the decision not being delivered until April 2000.

The decision said that the CHE had made 10 breaches of the collective employment agreement and the other agreements with the union, had acted in a covert manner to bypass the union, and wrongfully dismissed the union members even though all those who wanted to transfer maintained their employment conditions.

Employment Court Judge Coral Shaw said the workers were entitled to damages for the way they had been treated and suggested that the union negotiate the appropriate sum with the CHE, which by this time was in the process of becoming a District Health Board.

Negotiations with the District Health Board management commenced soon after the decision and when they did not reach agreement it was proposed that a Labour Department mediator be asked to hear the arguments on behalf of the union and the DHB and make a final and binding decision.

Union claims $1 million

Mediator Walter Grills convened a session to hear from the union and the District Health Board. The room was packed with current and ex-workers who were involved in the case. The Union proposed that in addition to appropriate apologies from the DHB chief executive, each of the workers be given $5000 tax-free and the union be paid $70,000 for its legal costs. The claim on the DHB was exactly $1 million.

Union lawyer Luci Highfield asked each of the workers present to speak to their damages claim and they did so, telling tearful stories about the way their jobs and lives had been turned upside down and put under considerable stress by the underhand way the CHE had treated them.

Porirua Hospital cook Lucy Rodgers, who had worked at the hospital for almost 20 years, described the betrayal that she felt at the actions of the CHE management. She said that her secure world had been turned upside down, that her health had suffered and that she had to withdraw her daughter from a boarding school because she was uncertain about her family’s economic future.

Walter Grills released his decision, which included support for the full union claim. It was accompanied by a District Health Board agreement for official apologies to be extended by way of a letter each to the affected workers and the DHB hosting a dinner at Takapuwahia Marae for the workers and their families, where another apology would be given.

For the 300 people who turned up to Porirua’s Takapuwahia Marae for the dinner and apology it was a sweet end to an eight-year struggle for justice.

Even though the District Health Board Chief Executive Margot Mains had not been involved in any of the events of 1993/94 it was appropriate that she fronted up and personally apologised for the hurt and damage that her predecessor managers had caused for the workers and their families.

Tai Elkington, a Kenepuru Hospital orderly, was proud that the apology and dinner could be held on his marae in front of his family. He said that even though time had passed it was important for him that there was formal recognition of the hurt that had been caused.

It was the closing of a page on a very sad period in the history of the Wellington public hospital system, where the mad scientists of the neo-liberal market-led health reforms were let loose and allowed to make the lives of workers from the communities with the highest health needs the subjects of their experiments.

While the position of these workers could never be restored to what they enjoyed in the 1980s they had the satisfaction of knowing that through their solidarity and perseverance they had exposed the duplicitous conduct of their public sector employer and created greater job security for workers into the future.