LSG’s airline catering workers take a stand
Struggling workers have to choose between rent or petrol, and some even rely on foodbanks to get by: this is the reality for many workers employed at major airline catering company LSG.
When COVID-19 hit in March last year, its workers took a further hit as the aviation sector went into meltdown, with the future still uncertain.
LSG’s workforce shrank from 900 to around 300. In order for the remaining jobs to stay, E tū members made huge sacrifices.
They gave up their full time hours. They gave up their penal rates, overtime pay, and temporarily put their existing redundancy clause in their collective on hold.
The variation permitting this change to their terms and conditions was renewed once before and was due to end in April, yet the company wanted to extend it further. This time, LSG workers said, “No.”
After a full day at mediation, there was hope on the horizon for members.
A few of their parked terms and conditions were restored and pay for a minimum of 35 hours a week was guaranteed (up from 30 hours per for the past seven months). At heightened Alert Levels, the company is still continuing to pay workers for 35 hours.
E tū members also received a one-off cash payment equal to their union fees until the end of November.
An E tū delegate who comes from a family of unionists and prefers not to be named, says saying no to the variation has set the stage for bargaining, which puts a pay rise for workers front and centre.
“We haven’t had a significant pay rise in years. The chefs’ [pay] alone was frozen 5 years ago.”
Nobody can survive on the minimum wage, she says.
A shortage of drivers also meant that the company put up the wages for drivers, but not for other workers. The delegate says that has to change.
“For the last 18 months, we have helped this company. We have met them more than halfway. It’s about time that they started giving something back.
“We’ve had a win, but now we just have to keep working to get where we need to be.”
Holding onto collective power at Jetstar
Despite the impact of the pandemic on aviation, Jetstar’s domestic and Tasman crew members have quietly continued to organise to win back their terms and conditions.
Like the LSG workers, Jetstar members also said no to a continuation of a temporary variation that they agreed to a year ago.
The variation meant all workers would take ‘special leave without pay’ each month and opt back into work if it was available.
However, with the Trans-Tasman travel bubble on hold again and no flights in and out of Auckland, E tū delegate Katherine van der Spek says Jetstar is pressing for a return to the variation and were now asking crew to use their annual leave instead.
“Lots of people don’t have leave left, and those who do want to use it to reunite with family,” she says.
“Everyone who doesn’t have annual leave left, effectively has guaranteed work. But once everyone’s leave has been exhausted, there is a risk they’ll start with redundancies.”
She says many members want the special leave without pay variation to be on volunteer basis only. They hope to come to an agreement with Jetstar soon.
“We understand the position that they’re in, but we are also trying to protect everyone’s financial stability and ability to live,” says Katherine.
Even so, the Jetstar delegate says members feel like they still have some collective power: “The vaccinations are going to open [travel] up and the lockdown seems to be working. Hopefully, it will get better from here.”
Aged care workers stop work for #safestaffingnow
E tū’s joint organising campaign with nurses’ union, NZNO, got off to a great start at the beginning of August.
Stop work meetings were organised in regions and cities around Aotearoa New Zealand for union members, seniors’ advocacy group Greypower, and local MPs to come together and discuss the impact of unsafe staffing levels on aged care workers and their residents.
Three meetings – in Invercargill, Dunedin, and New Plymouth – were held before COVID restrictions meant meetings would need to move online.
E tū member Candy Hopson spoke at her meeting and says she felt good about sharing her story.
“I’m very grateful that I did it. Our local MP came to the meeting, and it felt like he had listened to me.”
A carer for around 10 years, Candy says: “I have a passion for caring for the elderly but something’s got to change. We’re not able to look after our elderly the way they need to be – it’s just all wrong and it’s not good enough.
Candy has been off work for the past six months with a work-related injury that came to a head after she was moving a resident and says short staffing was a “significant factor”.
“It comes down to: we haven’t got the time or the people. I used to be able to do nails and facial hair and learn who a resident was, but now it’s impossible.
“Cares aren’t getting done properly because we have to prioritise someone else. It’s not fair on us either – as carers, our bodies get broken too.”
The next stop work meetings will take place on Zoom in October for members in the Auckland region.
And members are urging everyone they can to sign the Safe Staffing petition which they hope to present to Parliament later in the year.
Click here to sign and share.
Cleaners say ‘no’ to hospital upping car parking fees
Setaita and her colleagues working as cleaners at Waitākere Hospital are relieved they won’t have to fork out an extra $5 a week, thanks to collective action to quash an increase to staff carpark rates.
Last October, Waitemata District Health Board proposed to put up rates by $1 a day – a big weekly cost for workers already on low wages.
Up to six health unions, including E tū, NZNO, and the PSA, came together to discuss their concerns with management and were invited into an engagement process to work things out.
For E tū delegate Setaita Paea, who’s worked at the hospital for six years, the meetings were eye-openers.
“We divided in groups to talk about from [our perspectives] as cleaners and from all the other unions. But what I see [from] the management is that they are really willing to hear from us as cleaners.”
Finally, the hospital management agreed to keep the rate at $3 a day.
“For us cleaners, it means a lot,” Setaita says, as workers still have to juggle the issues of finding a free park if they’re starting on a later shift or resorting to street parking.
A new committee, which will include the unions’ delegates, has also been formed to deal with ongoing issues of car parking.
What’s the deal on parking for other DHB workers?
Unions are trying to improve car parking for hospital workers, which is an issue at all Auckland’s DHBs due to public transport not being available or accessible at the times it’s needed.
- At Counties Manukau DHB, a combined group of union delegates are working with infrastructure managers.
- Auckland Hospital is now putting on a shuttle for early morning shift workers and has allocated a number of spots in a public car park for staff. E tū is still working through issues around the cost of parking and shuttle times.
Sea change for school cleaners
It’s time for a sea change for more than a dozen school cleaners, who work for Seaway Cleaning Services at Manurewa High School.
After less than a year in the union, these E tū members will be getting their first ever collective agreement.
It’s a far cry from the early days, when members were so scared of getting in trouble for joining the union that they’d only meet at McDonalds.
Former E tū delegate Barb Mita says the management initially kicked the organisers off the premises and was quite shocked when all of the small group of cleaners at the school joined the union.
“The management knew what [the union] was, but they didn’t expect them to be here at Manurewa High School!”
The main things the workers have asked for is their collective agreement, better wages, and somewhere else to have their breaks – rather than alongside the “machines and chemicals” in the boiler room.
“The only time we go into the staff room area is when the teachers are on term break,” Barb says.
But just having everyone part of the union is great: “Before that we had nothing at all. Now everybody’s in the union and they’ve got a lot to say!”
Success for Sistema members before lockdown
Leaa Veukiso was often so exhausted that she felt like “a zombie” most of the time.
For the past six years, the Sistema delegate had been surviving on as little as five hours sleep a day, before she went back to work – a 12-hour night shift from 6am to 6pm.
And that was before she did overtime on the weekends, clocking up around 72 hours a week.
Now with the new collective E tū members have negotiated at Sistema, Leaa says she’s got a new lease on life.
“I go to work and I feel fresh. I come home and I still have energy,” says the mum-of-three, who now only does around 50 hours a week.
“I didn’t even realise that I could feel this good, instead of feeling like a zombie all time.”
The 12-hour shifts have been scrapped for three eight-hour shifts instead, and members have kept their 30-minute paid meal break.
All Sistema members, who have been at the company for more than six months, are now paid the Living Wage or above.
There’s also now scope for members to move up the pay scale, as they complete certain training.
Leaa, who sat on the bargaining team for the first time this year, says the whole experience has been calm and collected, as well as “good learning”.
“It’s one thing talking to your supervisor on the floor and talking to organisers, but really it’s empowering sitting there and facing management and having them hear what the people want. I can’t wait for the next bargaining.”
Unfortunately since the latest COVID-19 lockdown, Sistema has not heeded to the concerns of its members to shut the factory. It has continued to operate at 10 percent capacity through Alert Levels 3 and 4.
Aside from planned shutdowns, such as after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, the company has asked all workers not at work to take leave if they still want to receive their normal pay.
So far Sistema has no plans to reimburse workers for either their leave or their lost pay.
However, Leaa says she’ll still be pushing ahead with her plan to recruit new permanent staff into the union – at a time when collective strength is needed more than ever for workers to win back what they’re owed.
Midnight win for McKechnies workers
It took negotiations until the eleventh hour and an emergency stop-working meeting for McKechnies Aluminium workers to get the pay offer they felt they deserved.
And they were all primed to walk off the job to get it too.
It’s taken more than a year to negotiate, but E tū members at McKechnies now have a whopping 8% pay rise to look forward to.
That’s 2% back pay, 4% for 2021 and 2% for 2022.
E tū delegate Tyrell Crean says it all started around a year ago, when a rewrite of the collective was on the cards.
But then COVID hit, and unexpectedly, business turned into “one of the best years that we’ve ever had”.
McKechnies workers were slammed – often doing more than 60 hours a week, with tons of orders and new customers coming through, Tyrell says.
Initially, there was an offer for $500 cash-in-hand, which members voted down. That turned into 1% for 2021, followed by 1.9% for 2022, but workers on the floor were still aiming higher.
Eventually, the floor prepared to strike on a Friday morning after asking for 4% and 4%, certain the company would not agree to it.
“That week was a lot of fun”, says Tyrell, as they got ready to bring on more workers to cover the members’ Friday shifts.
With the threat of a strike looming, the company called a mid-week emergency meeting that went on till midnight. It led to the workers’ best offer yet: 2% back pay, 4% raise for 2020, and 2% for 2022.
By Thursday morning it was theirs, and their strike plans were (albeit somewhat reluctantly) cast aside.
Tyrell says: “Everyone’s totally stoked with what we’ve got. A lot have been here for 25 years plus, and this is the largest increase we’ve ever had. It’s a massive win.”
Union membership is also higher than ever – around 80% of the site are E tū members.
Tyrell reckons members are more united as a team now, and more valued by the company – after they realised the impact even a one-day strike would have on production.
“It’s shown management the power of what we have – I think they know now they need to treat workers as assets.”
Calls for ‘Just Transition’ plans after industry shocks in the Bay of Plenty
E tū’s campaign for a ‘Just Transition’ for workers is more important than ever in the face of mill closures and buyouts in the Bay of Plenty and at other manufacturing businesses around the country.
In May and June, both of the region’s major mill operations – Norske Skog’s Tasman Mill, and the Whakatāne Board Mill – had massive restructures, affecting more than 300 workers.
Tasman Mill in Kawerau finally closed its doors in mid-July, and Whakatāne Board Mill was bought out by The Smurfit Consortium.
While many workers at Whakatāne plan to stay on to help the new owners get operations up and running, those at Kawerau face an uncertain future.
Tasman Mill’s delegate and E tū industry spokesperson Bruce Habgood, says there was a “strong sense of mourning” about the closure and businesses needed to prepare transition plans to help workers as industries changed.
“Some of the workers at the mill are of an age and skill set that means they aren’t so employable anymore and might never work again.
“We also really need businesses to have their own transition plans going forward so that workers have choices and alternatives.”
Many other businesses also relied on the mill for work and may really suffer ‘death by a thousand cuts’ once gone, he says.
And it’s clear that the wood processing sector isn’t the only one struggling.
In September, printing distribution company, Ovato, announced it was shutting shop at its Christchurch branch, due to diminishing demand during the pandemic.
Becoming ‘number one’ for worker rights: Delegate power builds at major Kiwi manufacturer
Members at Fisher and Paykel Healthcare are delivering on products that not only help save lives, but they’re building their collective power too.
Since March, delegates have welcomed more than 30 newbies to the team.
With nearly 1500 union members on site, there’s a lot of members to support and advise, says site convenor and delegate, Chris Burton.
Holding large-scale ‘town hall’ meetings for delegate nominations and bargaining negotiations was no mean feat either, he says.
“We did around 10 presentations running from about 6am to 7pm – that’s a lot of talking and presenting!”
Because of social distancing, meetings were restricted to around 150 people at a time, rather than the usual 450, Chris says.
New delegate Nga has worked at the company for around seven years and says her respect for the collective is why she signed up for the role.
“We get warnings and friendly advice, but sometimes it’s not [what’s in the collective].
“It’s all about the people – I just wanted to help union members and make them understand the policies and what we’re talking about.”
Members have also bargained for their new collective – something Nga says she’s keen to be part of in future – which they are looking to ratify after lockdown.
Chris says workers getting what they deserve is as important as everything else about the business: “We work for our country’s most successfully publicly listed company, and we’re making a product which is beneficial to people’s lives and outcomes.
“We are certainly holding the company to account. We want excellence in wages and conditions – we want to be number one in New Zealand.”