The sound of solidarity: bargaining at NZSO
Instruments, tours, performances… It’s not your regular workplace nor your regular collective.
However, the country’s only full-time and salaried orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), is a heavily unionised workplace – most of its 90 musicians are members of E tū.
In November, the bargaining team began negotiating their new collective which has a strong worker voice.
Delegate Lyndsay Mountfort says musicians are “slightly unusual employees” in the traditional sense.
“For example, a lot of what we’ve got in our collective are things like professional and artistic issues, about standards and wanting to retain a level of control for our members.”
One element of the collective that’s being reworked is around managing musicians’ performance during their orchestral career, which can be long, as they tend to settle into an orchestra and stay.
“We’re trying to replace previous processes to be lighter in touch and support players to maintain their standards.
“In most workplaces, that’s something that’s monitored by managers, but with us, we do it ourselves,” the longtime delegate says.
“We have very long careers, and it’s very much a big family – you can end up with people playing alongside their own kids!”
They’re also reviewing the symphony’s audition policy to reflect how the process happens in reality.
In orchestras around the world, a “trial period” is seen as a normal and critical part of the hiring process to make sure the fit for both parties is right, Lyndsay says.
As NZSO often recruits players internationally, new musicians may want to have played with the group in person before accepting the job, in a new city or a new country.
Players also have regular opportunities to talk with the orchestra’s board and meet with its executive around once a month.
So how does this group of musicians manage to work so closely, year after year, with high levels of trust? It’s all about solidarity, Lyndsay says.
“It’s the way we have to work – partly the environment here, as it’s the only full-time salaried orchestra in the country – and when you’re performing, it’s a team activity.
“Particularly as [in normal times] we tour more than most orchestras – sharing planes and buses, socialising and eating together. You kind of need to get on!”
Workers unite for safe staffing action day
Aged care workers are continuing to push the Government to update the current staffing recommendations and make them law.
In December, members from E tū, NZNO, and Grey Power are presenting a parliamentary petition and open letter for mandatory safe staffing to Parliament, with actions taking place at rest homes and aged care hospitals around the country.
Current staffing guidelines were set down in 2005.
They are not only woefully out of date, but are not mandatory either.
E tū member Mokasehina Vaetoru, who has 10 years of experience working in aged care, says safe staffing is about improving the lives of residents and workers.
“Everyone has the right to proper care, and having a safe number of staff means a better quality of life and quality of care for residents.
“We need a new policy that not only protects the staff and guarantees safe care for residents, but provides a minimum number of staff on the floor,” she says.
“Safe staffing needs to be mandatory – the residents are suffering daily and workers are injuring themselves under pressure.”
The joint campaign will continue into 2022, until aged care workers win!
See etu.nz/safestaffing for more.
Win for two groups of Geneva community care workers
It’s a double win for Geneva members working in home and community support, and residential community living, with two collective agreements settled at the same time covering hundreds of care workers around Aotearoa.
After the hard slog of bargaining, there are some great and precedent-setting wins achieved by the bargaining teams led by delegates at Geneva.
Union members now have more sick leave than the Government’s minimum, with a union-only premium being negotiated, more bereavement leave (also for union members only), and cultural leave in line with commitments to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Geneva community living delegate Isaac Otineru says both collectives have “lots of goodies” for members, thanks to the hard work of the delegate teams.
“We’re really stoked for the outcome and what’s in it for our people in the long run,” he says.
Geneva home support delegate Colleen Frost says the bargaining process was a positive experience.
“We’ve more than doubled our union membership at Geneva since our last collective was settled.
“This time around, it was great to be able to make progress and create change in our sector – care is our future.”
“We rely on that pay”: Rest home workers strike over proposed cuts
Members at the only rest home in a rural Northland town took matters into their own hands after being threatened by their employer with potential redundancies if they didn’t accept the terms of their new collective.
So far, members at Claud Switzer Rest Home in Kaitaia have had two short strikes with more planned for December, in an attempt to get their employer to listen to their point of view.
The home, run by Claud Switzer Memorial Trust, has proposed cuts to members’ allowances, such as extra pay for working on weekends, along with other concerning clauses around job security, wages, and medical issues.
It also put out posters outlining a grey future if the members didn’t accept the new collective: no new building or refurbishments, leading to a reduced number of beds and then redundancies.
While strike action has led to some movement from the trust, the proposals around worrying cuts to weekend pay and others haven’t changed.
Longtime worker at Claud Switzer and E tū member Kam Wijohn only works weekends so she can care for her grandchildren during the week.
She estimates that she’ll be potentially losing thousands from her pay per year if her weekend allowance is reduced in three years’ time from an extra $5 per hour down 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.”
“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.
“We feel that our employer isn’t listening to us,” she says.
Staff turnover at Claud Switzer is already on the rise, and members say the roster is full of gaps, with weekend work being some of the hardest shifts to staff.
Members have said they will continue to strike until they get what they need from the trust.
And while it’s the “hardest thing for us to do to walk out on our residents,” E tū delegate Margaret McQuade says being on the picket line wasn’t all bad.
“Our members really enjoyed being out there together and feeling like they had a voice.”
Ready for take off at Jetconnect with new collective
After more than three years of on-again off-again negotiating, cabin crew at Jetconnect finally have a collective agreement.
Jetconnect, a subsidiary of Australia’s Qantas, has come under fire during the Covid crisis with cabin crew on a Special Leave Without Pay ‘furlough scheme’ for much of the year, having to find second jobs to survive. During the recent lockdown, the company was also ineligible for the wage subsidy.
But having been through such tough times, members are celebrating having a new collective agreement.
From a six percent pay rise over three years (including backpay) and a bonus payment that’s three years overdue, the team is positive about their gains, says long-time delegate Andrew Reilly.
“A lot of members are relieved that we have an agreement and that things are starting to move forwards again.”
Members’ base salary will start again in December, and they will now have eight or 12-hour reserve periods to ensure clearer rest periods.
Andrew says many members had to pick up casual jobs during Covid, which meant they worried about inconveniencing their new employers each time flying restarted at Jetconnect and they went back to their old jobs.
As the only remaining member of the original bargaining team and now a moonlighting hospital orderly, Andrew says he’s grateful to still be on board.
“I like to be positive – we have been lucky. We were stood down and told to hang around, but most got good jobs. There is still a lot of unease, but it will be great to be back in our uniforms.”
Putting the heat on to put up pay
Most weeks, factory workers at Argus Heating do overtime, making industrial electric blankets used to keep things like food at a stable temperature when it’s exported.
They might expect to work a 12-hour day during the week, plus a 10-hour day on Saturday, and a few extra hours on Sunday.
Now E tū members will not only be cutting back, but getting paid more for the hours they work – with time and a half pay on the weekend and a normal 40-hour work week.
E tū delegate Katrina Michie says members have been prepared to take strike action since April if the deal didn’t come through.
“We’ve fought long and hard to get it, and I’m very glad that management did change their mind.”
New delegate Nu’u Fata agrees: “Every year towards summer it’s always busy and we’re always working hard, long hours, so I think getting overtime rates is a good reward and extra money.”
Katrina says most of the production team are now union members.
“Everyone wanted changes to be made, and thought the union would be a good idea to help make change.”
So what’s next on the cards? “Sorting out redundancy pay – that would be nice.”
Cabin crew rostered together again after 10 years
After almost a decade of segregated rostering, two groups of Air New Zealand A320 cabin crew will crew their first rostered flights together from next April.
Since around 2013, following a restructure, the company’s short haul cabin crew have been divided into two groups on separate rosters and ‘schedules’ of a shared collective agreement.
It meant that existing workers – who were designated the ‘Schedule 500’ cabin crew – retained their terms and conditions. It was also agreed that the two groups of workers would not be rostered on together (except if required in exceptional circumstances).
Meanwhile, newer workers – known as the ‘Schedule 400’ Cabin Crew – joined a new schedule inside this collective agreement, with differing terms and conditions that they fought to improve in the following years.
Now after years of negotiating for a variation that would bring the group under one roster, a successful variation vote was achieved.
Both groups of cabin crew will now fly together, while still retaining their respective terms and conditions.
The variation also includes improved conditions to help crew to maintain work life balance, as flying begins to ramp up and borders open.
With around a 70 percent majority vote from both schedules, delegates say members are excited for this change.
“It will be a big change of dynamic to how we have been working and we’re looking forward to this new way forward,” says long-time Schedule 500 delegate Suzanne Aull.
The change also means the Schedule 500 crew can return to flying international routes again.
A Schedule 400 delegate, Josh Nicoll, who’s been with the company for around six years, says he believes coming together is the right thing to do.
“It does help the company, but for our crew, it’s the start of a new dynamic of flying and represents new beginnings for our fleet heading into 2022.”