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Budget 2021

On May 20, E tū celebrated the release of Budget 2021, which makes significant moves improve the lives of Aotearoa’s workers and their communities.

In particular, E tū welcomes the plan for an ACC-style ‘social insurance’ scheme, which would give workers income protection if they lose their jobs.

It will provide workers with up to 80% of their income for a certain period of time, with both maximum and minimum caps.

E tū also commends the increase to unemployment benefit, which is essential to ensure justice and wellbeing for our society. This directly supports our members who move in and out of employment, their families and whole communities as well as for members’ households that support those out of work.

Budget 2021 is also good news for homecare support workers, who will now see their in-between travel time paid at their normal hourly rate – thanks to the $82 million put aside to fund this.

Until now, this essential health workforce was only paid the minimum wage when they were travelling between clients.

Now there’s $82 million locked in to fund fair, consistently paid travel-for-work over the next four years.

E tū delegate and support worker Tarsh Dixon, who has been on the frontlines campaigning for better conditions in the sector, says she initially didn’t believe the news was real.

“I reckon when our pay finally goes up, it will click. At the moment, members are just so stunned we finally got there,” she says.

“It’s amazing. It feels like real progress and that we’re being listened to.”

MSD security guards can also celebrate, with the Government’s commitment to paying them the Living Wage now cemented in the Budget.

Alongside all this, Budget 2021 has more pro-worker initiatives, for example, restoring the Training Incentive Allowance, new funding for vocational education growth, and a further commitment to a Just Transition.

Increased capital funding for Green Investment Finance will support growth in new, clean industries to replace those in fossil fuel sectors – but E tū wants to see workers receive assurance that this investment will lead to good, secure jobs.

E tū sees Budget 2021 as the first in a ‘package’ of three – as Finance Minister Grant Robertson has described it – and looks forward to the next instalments for workers and their communities.

Helen Kelly: Story of a union leader

When you dip into the story of Helen Kelly, you’re not only immersing yourself in her world, but a history of Aotearoa New Zealand’s social change.

This is just what veteran journalist Rebecca Macfie was aiming for when she sat down to write the life story of the union leader.

The writing process took more than two years and represented a complex challenge – interviews with around 200 people, alongside trawling through history books, meeting minutes, and old newspaper archives to get a fuller sense of what was going on in the country at different points in Helen’s life.

“There’s probably not a paragraph in the book that hasn’t got a stack of books about four high as research sitting behind it,” Rebecca says.

“Obviously, it was a biography of Helen, but I wanted it to be really, really deeply anchored in historical and economic context.”

It was also important to her to “break open new ground”, she says.

Helen Kelly grew up in a family of unionists and quickly became involved in unions when she started her first career as a primary teacher – elected as a delegate on her first day.

She later became president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions in 2007, and fought numerous well-profiled battles including forestry deaths, the Pike River Mine disaster, and rights for film contractors working on The Hobbit.

Alongside her own battles, the book details the activism of her “radical union family”, such as her father, Pat, fighting for better rights for cleaners through the 1970s and 80s, followed by the wage freezes of the Muldoon era.

E tū Assistant National Secretary, Annie Newman, met Helen in the late 80s when Pat was the secretary of the Cleaners and Caretakers union. She says there wasn’t much that Helen didn’t turn her hand to in pursuit of justice for workers.

“She always saw herself as part of our union and in many ways trusted us to get out and win our campaigns while she focused on forestry and mining among numerous other important campaigns,” Annie says.

“At E tū’s launch as a newly merged union, Helen was proud to be made the first new Life Member of E tū. This was in recognition of her unwavering solidarity with our members and because, at heart, she had always been E tū.”

Rebecca says she was drawn to Helen’s story as she was interested in her ideas and style of activism, and also met Helen three years before her early death from cancer in 2016.

However, she also wanted to make sure she created accurate and rounded picture of Helen – both as a person and leader.

“Helen was very loved though she was a controversial figure in many ways. She was wrong sometimes; she was right sometimes. She was incredibly productive, and she was prepared to get right up people’s noses.

“But the thing that constantly struck me in living with her story was that she was just incredibly loved. She had this enormous circle [of friends]. She ran on loyalty really, in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever sort of seen in anybody.”

With decades of reporting and two books to her name – the Pike River Mine disaster and Helen’s biography – that meditate on workers’ rights, what motivates Rebecca to tell the stories of workers and activism?

“In some ways, the Global Financial Crisis is the beginning point [for me], because there you had those with power blowing up the world and nothing happened. And then two years later, we had those with power blowing up [Pike River] mine and nothing happened.”

“[Now I have] a much sharper sense of who has power and how it works, and how change is achieved – and the catastrophic consequences of that getting out of whack.”

Deep change is still needed to create a truly fair society, but Rebecca says she hopes readers will feel a sense of their own power in reading Helen’s story.

“It will give people a story of change, and a story of what can happen when people get together and fight for something better, and that they have a role in that.”

Click here to visit the Awa Press website to learn more or pick up your copy!

New leadership heights for cabin crew

Alen Ram has been around airports in one way or another all his life.

Growing up in Fiji, overlooking the runway at Nadi Airport and with a father who travelled a lot for business, Alen always thought how great it would be to be able to have a job where he could travel himself.

“We would sit outside on the veranda and we saw all the planes coming in and out – our house was about five minutes away from the airport.”

After leaving Fiji to come and live in New Zealand to study business management, Alen then flitted between the two countries for more than a decade, including going home to help his family rebuild after Cyclone Winston.

He finally settled back in his adopted country five years ago.

Having always had an interest in working for Air New Zealand, Alen got a role working in cargo as a warehouse agent.

Then came the “icing on the cake”: becoming a flight attendant on A320s, flying domestic and trans-Tasman routes.

“I wanted our voice to go to the highest peak.”

When he started filling in as an in-flight service manager (IDO), Alen realised how much he enjoyed leading a team. “You set the tone of the environment – talking to people, making them feel comfortable. I wanted things to be more democratic, and for my colleagues to be empowered to do [serious] calls themselves.”

He also flew long haul on 787s, before returning to A320s. However, Alen found himself side-lined and unable to fly – first due to an inner ear issue and then, like many other aviation workers, due to the major industry-wide disruption of COVID-19.

Alen decided to put himself forward to become a delegate: “I wanted to make sure there was more transparency around what was happening between the company and my colleagues.

“No matter how many times you fall, it’s about how you get up and move forward.”

He resumed flying domestically part-time, but decided to complement his lighter work schedule with finishing a graduate diploma with a double major in human resources/employment relations and business management at AUT.

Realising the power of “being in teams and being in a group”, Alen decided to see if he could join E tū’s Aviation Industry Council.

“I wanted our voice to go to the highest peak. As a delegate, I can attend the meetings and take [our issues] to the Aviation Industry Council, and then the voices of cabin crew would be heard in the process.”

Now the elected Convenor of the Aviation Industry Council, Alen says his priorities are clear: having decent work for all in the aviation industry – whether it’s Air New Zealand’s ground handling staff, customer service staff, or those at other companies, such as Jetstar or Menzies.

He’s keen to see better wages, ways of managing fatigue on the job, and bringing more flexibility to roles. Fair Pay Agreements are one way of setting industry standards to create better working conditions and wellbeing for everyone, he says.

“Everyone wants a good life, and I want to help everyone in aviation to achieve that goal.

“That’s what E tū is doing – we are not just thinking about our members, we are thinking about everyone in the industry.”

Hope for new health reforms to boost workers’ pay and conditions

It’s the hope that the Government’s recent proposed reform of the health system will lead to better outcomes in employment conditions for all health workers.

In April, the Government announced that the country’s 20 DHBs will eventually be replaced by a single, centralised public health body, Health New Zealand. It will also set up a specialised Māori Health Authority.

Home support worker and E tū’s Community Support Services Industry Council Convenor Marianne Bishop says the move seems positive.

“Hopefully not having DHBs is going to make things more equitable in healthcare across the country, meaning more money for people’s health and hospitals, and for workers to have better pay and conditions.

“That includes aged care, home support, disability and community support services, and all contracted and directly-employed DHB staff,” she says.

“We’ve really got to wait and see, but it’s very important to have workers’ voices and involve regional experts so that things are fair.”

E tū’s Co-President Muriel Tunoho, who also works in primary health care, says the establishment of a Māori Health Authority is a “huge” step forward.

“It’s never been done before and will prioritise Māori healthcare and outcomes in the context of the Crown’s Te Tiriti obligations.”

The health reform process is expected to take around three years.

E tū is one of the largest unions for health workers, representing more than 15,000 members.

E tū leaders unite against COVID-19

“I had the COVID-19 vaccination recently because of my project work with our patients at the Hutt Union & Community Health Service.

“Many of our 8,000 patients are Māori, Pacific, refugees, and low-income earners.

E tū Co-President Muriel Tunoho after her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

“During lockdown, our doctors and nurses quickly adapted to triage acute patients and use digital tools and telephone consultations to keep everyone safe.

“Our team of community health workers worked from home to phone and check on the health and welfare of our most vulnerable patients and their whānau.

“We took collective action to keep our communities safe and we organised with local Māori and Pacific health providers and agencies to deliver free food and sanitation packs to patients and their whanāu.

“I’m having the COVID-19 vaccination to protect my whānau, other workers, our communities and to get Aotearoa moving safely again.”

Keeping the Living Wage wins coming

Auckland Council cleaners have finally had a Living Wage victory, with the first group of contracted cleaners winning the 2020 Living Wage in April.

Winning the Living Wage at Auckland Council has been a key priority for the Living Wage Movement in Auckland since its inception. E tū, other unions, community organisations, and faith groups have kept the Living Wage on the Council’s agenda for years.

In 2016, Mayor Phil Goff made his Living Wage commitment during his election campaign. Directly employed workers have been paid at least the Living Wage since 2019.

Paying the Living Wage is already making a real difference for the lives of E tū members who clean Auckland Council buildings, such as Josephine Wiredu, who cleans the Mayor’s office.

“I don’t have to work long hours anymore and I have more time to spend with my family, especially my two young daughters,” Josephine says.

“This will also help me pay for my daughter’s piano lessons and save for a holiday together as a family. I have a lot of leave, but couldn’t take my family anywhere as I didn’t have enough money.

“Thank you very much to my fellow E tū union members!”

Security guards who work for Auckland Transport, a council-controlled organisation, are also on the way to a Living Wage victory.

Lavinia Kafoa, a security guard at an Auckland train station, says that the progress is promising.

“It will help me, as a single mother, to pay the rent, put food on the table, and pay the rest of the bills on time,” Lavinia says.

The Living Wage would mean I could support my kids with their sports and take time out of work to be there for them. It would mean that when I am really stressed out and not feeling well, I would have a choice to take time out to look after my wellbeing and mental health.”

The campaign continues – once all workers employed by contractors are paid at least the Living Wage, New Zealand’s biggest council can become an accredited Living Wage Employer, joining Wellington City Council and Dunedin City Council as leaders for decent pay in public services.

Win for guards as security is included in Part 6A

Working life for Aotearoa New Zealand’s security guards is about to get a whole lot more secure, now they’ll be legally entitled to keep their job with its terms and conditions if another security company takes over the contract they’re employed on.

On 1 April, the Government added security guards as a category of employees to be protected under Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act. For security guards, this means maintaining the terms and conditions of their original employment, such as pay and accrued leave, even when their contract with one security company ends and is taken over by another.

The new legislation will come into effect on 1 July.

Click here to read a comprehensive history of this campaign, written by E tū’s former Assistant National Secretary, John Ryall. 

Winning Fair Pay Agreements

E tū can now celebrate the success of its campaign for Fair Pay Agreements. The Government have announced it will now draft law based on the Working Party Report that E tū helped to create. This is a victory for the security guards and cleaners who have campaigned for many years to transform the law for our members, standing up at public meetings, lobbying politicians, and being part of conferences and delegations to push FPAs. Now, we are joined by home care workers keen to see the new law apply to their industry too.

The implementation of Fair Pay Agreement legislation will be the best change to employment law in New Zealand in decades. The idea is to set minimum pay and conditions that apply to whole industries, to stop the “race to the bottom” that sees employers try to stay competitive by paying poor wages, as well as taking other cost-cutting measures at the expense of workers.

The real effects of this widespread problem were described by a group of E tū members, who work in property services, to Government ministers at an E tū event in Parliament in December.

School cleaner and E tū member-organiser, Lulu Low, told the ministers: “I stand here with not just my voice, but the voice of my fellow cleaners. The struggle is so real for us.”

“Our [employers] don’t care about our wellbeing – they just want the job done. We are on minimum wage, with not enough hours. We’re not just cleaners, we are human beings, and we want to be treated with respect and dignity.

“To stop the race to the bottom, we need a Fair Pay Agreement. We voted you in to make a difference – and we’re asking you today to make that change.

“I pray that you will feel what we are feeling.”

At a union forum with the Government in April this year, security guard Rosey Ngakopu explained why improving minimum conditions beyond pay is an important part of the picture.

“We need a Fair Pay Agreement in security that guarantees our health and safety practices are revisited and remedied,” Rosey says.

“One of my security jobs was a carpark guard at a local shopping mall, which included managing the gridlock when the carpark was full. We got training on the job and managed it to the best of our ability, but any impatient motorists could be a risk to our safety. I had a lot of near misses, including three in just one shift.

“A Fair Pay Agreement in security would ensure better training and work conditions to protect essential workers like myself.”

This is how we will win Fair Pay Agreements – by telling our stories to the public and ensuring that the decision makers know about how real people will benefit from the legislation.

‘MacGyver girl’ matches up

Lizzie Walters had never worked in freight before, but thanks to E tū Job Match has found a position she’s loving getting to grips with.

In March 2020, we launched E tū Job Match, an online tool, and we have continued to grow and improve the services it provides.

From basic beginnings, E tū Job Match is now an informative platform for both job seekers and employers that lists job ads and training information, and connects job seekers with E tū for help with CVs and cover letter writing – all for free.

A former cleaner, Lizzie says she considers herself a “MacGyver girl”, having worked in many industries over the years, including building, painting, and plastering, but was worried about finding a new role.

“They helped with my CV – sent it to me and asked if there was anything I wanted to add and then put it up online. I was getting heaps of offers.”

Lizzie says she firmly believes Job Match was a factor in her success: “If it weren’t for those two ladies [at E tū Job Match], I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Almost 1500 job seekers have registered on the site so far, with around 80% of those looking for jobs from the aviation industry.

For help with your CV, cover letter, job opportunities, training, and more, check out

Student, baker, activist pays it forward

It was realising that her male colleagues in the same job were being paid one dollar an hour more than she was that really got Ines Mitgutsch fired up about workers’ rights.

A physics student who hails from Austria, Ines immediately went to her manager, who told her he’d come back to her about the issue.

A month later and still no answer, she followed up but was told her hourly rate would not be going up.

Quickly Ines joined E tū and started organising: “Seeing and feeling this injustice drove me to become very, very passionate about being a delegate.

“What if they hire another female baker and treat her like [they treated] me? I wouldn’t want anyone else to be in that position.”

Until September, Ines is also honing her organising skills as an intern at Te Ohu Whakawhanaunga (an emerging community alliance in Auckland), where she’s working with South Auckland communities to pinpoint key issues and identify potential solutions.

“As a consequence of wages being too low, basic things can’t be afforded. For example, the fact that people have to pay $30 to see the GP – some people don’t have $30.

“From my talks with the delegates that I’ve met so far, a lot of the issues are work-related, which is something that can very much be addressed by unions, and it’s why it’s important that workers are unionised.”

Prepping for a Just Transition

With the challenges of climate change, new technology, and COVID-19 faced by many workers, E tū wants to make sure no one is left behind.

Since December, E tū has been running one-day workshops on the concept of “Just Transition” – the idea that workers should be engaged in their own futures, supported through change, and shouldn’t bear the brunt of inevitable changes to the economy.

Funded by the Government as part of the country’s COVID-19 recovery, E tū’s workshops are geared towards members working in manufacturing – a sector currently going through much change.

Members look at what a Just Transition is, why it’s needed, and how they can go about getting one on their own worksites. E tū delegate Ralph Greig, who works a night shift in manufacturing, says being well informed as delegates will definitely help to see the transition process carried out.

“We can relate it to our colleagues at work, and it would resolve many issues at the grassroots level.”

Another delegate Jennifer O’Brien-Finau, who has worked in manufacturing for 16 years, says she can take the information back to her workplace: “Now I understand the rights of our union – between us and the company, between us and the Government.”

“One union language”: standing tall as a Solidarity Member

Muti Saifiti knows how important unions are – she was part of one for almost 20 years – and her son, Gadiel, is following in her footsteps.

Now the former Service Workers Union member is giving back to E tū as a Solidarity Member – a new type of membership for those who don’t need workplace representation but want to stay connected to E tū.

Samoan-born Muti came to New Zealand in the 1960s, following her husband, as they immigrated to what they saw as a land of opportunity for their growing family.

Muti worked in many sectors E tū represents today: cleaning, manufacturing, and home support. While working as a cleaner at Middlemore Hospital, Muti remembers fighting for and winning the right to a taxi home (a provision in her collective) on weekends and public holidays.

“I more or less threw my boss ‘under the bus’ as it was, but the union played a pivotal role in helping us fight for our rights.”

E tū National Executive member Gadiel Asiata with his mother, Muti Saifiti

Muti also became a Solidarity Member as a nod to one of her sons, Gadiel, who sits on E tū’s National Executive. Unions are important because of the support they provide, she says: “Whether you speak English or not, there’s only one union language.”

Solidarity membership is also open to existing members as a top-up to your fees. For more, check out for more.