Editorial: An extraordinary and challenging time

By Bill Newson, E tū National Secretary

Bill Newson

Kia ora E tū members,

We have been through extraordinary and challenging times together since the last edition of our magazine. I want to acknowledge all members for your individual and family experiences under COVID-19, and in particular those members experiencing the anxiety and stress that comes with job losses.

During August we’ve been reminded how precarious the situation is, with a new outbreak resulting in a return to higher Alert Levels. Thankfully, it seems that the systems are working for this outbreak as well.

In late March, with the prospect of the COVID-19 nationwide Alert Level 4 shut down looming, E tū developed a critical strategy to serve our members. This became the foundation of our Rebuild Better campaign, which was guided by these principles:

Prioritise community health and wellbeing

COVID-related health and safety was our top priority for members, their families, and our E tū staff. Members who worked through the pandemic in essential jobs were entitled to a dependable supply of protective equipment of a standard that ensured they were safe and their families were safe when they returned from work. In too many cases, our union had to take immediate action to ensure this was adequate.

Workers’ wages leading the recovery

Our core principle was that no E tū member should be left out of pocket and that everyone should maintain their incomes. In too many cases, employers did not meet their obligations and E tū took action to ensure employers took up the government wage subsidy and applied it properly. We didn’t accept workers paying the full price and we still don’t.

Keep and create decent jobs

From the start, we understood the potential impact on jobs and that all decisions needed to be focused around protecting jobs where possible, working hard for members being made redundant and advocating for the creation of new, decent jobs. We created E tū Job Match early on, an online tool to link members looking for a new job with employers looking for new staff. We’re still helping members into new employment thanks to the uptake of that tool.

Union members involved in all decisions

One of our key beliefs is that decisions being made should involve union members. We have tried to ensure proper consultation on potential lay-offs and our recent investment in online communications technology meant that we could fully engage with our delegates and members from a distance about work-related issues during the lockdown period. Participation and engagement will always be some of our best avenues for getting a fair deal at work.

End inequality

The COVID-19 crisis didn’t just create a new set of problems, it also highlighted many of the issues that E tū members have been campaigning on for years, especially the historical injustices with pay for workers in essential services like cleaning and health. Low pay and poor conditions simply made the crisis that much worse for many of our members. There was, and still is, a clear need to to address these injustices.

E tū election campaign launch members tell party leaders what workers need

There are many instances where our members made a stand for these important principles. Inspiring examples include health care members fighting for decent personal protective equipment (PPE), members at Sistema who demanded respect for their safety at work, and our members at Temperzone standing up against unfair use of the Holidays Act.

The key determinant of a better rebuild is a government that accepts the responsibility to ‘step up, and step in’.

Our Government, competently led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has played a huge part in how well we have responded to COVID-19 compared with many other countries.

There can be no doubt that the current Government took the correct decision with the public health lockdown response. They have also intervened strategically, and critically, in support of workers, with announcements like the $12.1 billion investment budget, the budget-linked $5.1 billion wage subsidy, and the impressive $412 million apprentice support package.

We have been reminded about what is so special and important about our beautiful country. We all have a stake in our future and New Zealanders have a decision to make at the election this year about what sort of government we need.

E tū has always clearly understood our responsibility to be politically engaged to ensure our members’ interests are considered and met. We have a campaign to engage our members on the issues that are important to us and to ensure we support the election of a Labour-Greens government to address those issues.As E tū members, we can all play a part in this. Check out the Election 2020 sections in this magazine to see how you can get involved with the E tū campaign.

E tū elected representatives give power to our own strong democracy. It is important to protect and maintain our strong democratic processes, particularly during this tumultuous year.

Our Presidents, Muriel Tunoho and Don Pryde, have met weekly with me and our Assistant National Secretaries to oversee the operations of the union on behalf of our members. Our National Executive, Industry Councils, Runanga, committees, and our Trades Reference Group have continued to meet regularly by Zoom. We’ve made it work.

It was not possible for us to hold regional Delegate Forums and the Biennial Conference as scheduled. However, Delegate Forum elections for conference delegations were held online, and the conference will now be held on 4-5 November 2020.

We have faced great challenges over recent months. We have shown that by being united in our collective strength we can meet these challenges.

Kia kaha. Thank you for being an E tū member.