Editorial: 2021 takes shape

Bill Newson, National Secretary

National Secretary Bill Newson with Lifewise members on the picket line
PHOTO: Enzo Giordani

Kia ora E tū members,

Welcome to the first edition of our membership magazine for 2021. I want to open by personally acknowledging some E tū members.

E tū members employed by Lifewise Trust work hard to provide care and dignity to vulnerable people. Their employer promised them a collective agreement with various improvements, but this was then snatched away from them. They stood together for a better deal throughout the summer. I was privileged to stand with them on their picket lines. They had their ups and downs, but they won. In March, they ratified their first collective agreement, with a range of positive improvements. Standing up together for a better deal is what E tū is all about.

I acknowledge members employed by the Whakatāne Board Mill, Charta Packaging, and Nestlé who are facing stress and uncertainty as we represent them in restructuring and potential redundancy negotiations. Our E tū Job Match continues to be an important service to such members needing to find the security of a decent new job.

And, on a positive note, I congratulate our flight attendant members who are back in the air following the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble.

The year of the vaccine

The year 2020 really was extraordinary and challenging, and we are not out of the COVID woods yet. It is encouraging that our country’s response limited the worst effects of COVID, and we are now well into the vaccination programme.

However, it’s a race between the vaccine programme and the so-called “third-wave” of COVID mutations emerging overseas. E tū supports the Government’s vaccination programme, and we recommend that members and their families participate.

E tū democracy goes online

E tū is an acknowledged leader in workplace health and safety and we continue to lead by example, by holding our Delegate Forums online during April. Delegate Forums are a critical cornerstone of our E tū democracy, and we had to cancel them last year due to COVID. We didn’t want to have to do that again, so we have held all our forums online throughout April.

I want to thank all of our delegates who attended – many experienced a Zoom meeting for the first time. In-person engagement on issues affecting our members is important, and we have also really increased our union’s digital engagement capability which puts us in a great position to face future crises together.

A workers’ voice in our new industry training system

Throughout the COVID period, our Government has continued the biggest overhaul of our industry training system in 30 years with the Review of Vocational Education (called RoVE).

In consultation with our E tū Trades Reference Group, we made submissions on the proposed changes in order to ensure trainee and apprenticeship training serves the best interests of working people.

We are strongly involved with E tū representatives on the board of the new consolidated national polytechnic organisation, Te Pūkenga, the new Workforce Development Councils that set apprenticeship and trainee qualifications, and the new Regional Skills Leadership Groups that identify skills and labour market needs in the regions.

These new structures are being established during 2021, and I look forward to keeping members informed in future editions of our magazine.

Now’s the time for fairness at work

E tū has a clear view that we must “Rebuild Better” with a focus on health and wellbeing creating sustainable jobs, a Just Transition approach to restructuring, workers having a better say on issues at work, and an active government strategy to address inequality.

Ensuring a wages-led recovery is critical and that’s where Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) come in. Fair Pay Agreements will be the most significant change in employment legislation since the 1991 Employment Contracts Act stripped away our last system of a minimum platform of pay and conditions. We expect business, politicians and media to mount a well-resourced campaign of misinformation against FPAs. This is because they are a major challenge to employers’ power over their staff.

A relevant minimum industry platform for pay and conditions helps all workers do better and having a system of minimum industry pay and conditions, which can be improved by enterprise agreements, is common in countries with better pay and conditions than we have. In fact, the OECD recommends such a system because it is better for the economy overall.

This is about more than pay. It is about achieving better minimum industry standards in things like health and safety, hours of work, skill recognition, and redundancy provisions. We need to work hard to ensure that we get the right FPA laws in place under this Government. The opportunity won’t come again.

E tū continues to thrive

While the COVID-19 crisis presented many challenges for our union, we have weathered the storm and are proud to be able to provide the high-quality representation, campaigning, and organising that E tū members expect and deserve. I’m particularly pleased that we have been able to maintain and improve our presence in all corners of Aotearoa New Zealand, including with the appointment of two new Nelson-based E tū staff.

On behalf of our National Executive, thank you for being an E tū member.

In memoriam

Percy Harrison, E tū delegate

Percy Harrison, a staunch and passionate unionist and delegate, was a Mangere school caretaker for many years, who served on the Service and Food Workers Union Ngā Ringa Tota National Executive and Regional Organising Committee. Percy never stopped campaigning for justice for working people. He was a vocal leader for the Living Wage over the last 10 years and most recently, led the mihi whakatau for the launch of E tū’s General Election campaign in 2020. Moe mai rā, Percy. Moe mai rā e te rangatīra.

John Gardner, E tū organiser

John was a long-serving organiser based in Timaru, South Canterbury, for all of his time at E tū, until his passing. Before coming to E tū, John was a delegate at Telecom and served as Vice President of the Communication and Energy Workers Union (CEWU), as well as a short time on the Executive of the Engineers Union (now part of E tū). We remember John’s passion for his work and his absolute commitment to the members with whom he worked. His legacy will be felt by all, and he will be truly missed.