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Ten-year milestone for UnionAID

This May Day marked the 10th anniversary of UnionAID – a special milestone for the New Zealand union movement’s international development charity.

UnionAID was founded by a group of passionate volunteers after they witnessed unions in India and Burma struggling for justice, better wages, and decent conditions for working people. Thanks to its donors in New Zealand, including E tū, UnionAID has been able to provide solidarity and support which has helped change thousands of lives.

That includes projects like the unionising of domestic workers, street cleaners and overhead tank operators in the southern Indian city of Madurai. They are among the many workers to see their work formally recognised with higher pay, and for the street cleaners and tank operators, access to social services for the first time in their lives. Many are now able to save a little, enabling them to plan a better future for their families.

This shows the power of collective action to lift working people out of poverty. UnionAID looks forward to extending this support to more working men and women over the next ten years.

Supreme award win for Mere

Congratulations to E tū member Mere Te Paki, a Supreme Award winner in the first ever Matariki Te Mana Whakahaere Awards, an initiative by the Hutt Valley DHB to celebrate work by Maori to improve health outcomes for tangata whenua. The award ceremony in early July was timed to coincide with Matariki, which marks the Maori New Year.

The Award recognises Mere’s outstanding work as a community health worker for the Hutt Union and Community Health Services. In a glowing tribute, the DHB praised Mere’s tireless work to improve the lives of her clients and the whanau she serves.

“I’m very appreciative. It’s a humbling experience and it’s a great thing,” says Mere. “As a Maori wahine, it’s not just for me. It’s acknowledging Maori in the workforce – our capability and our strength. I think it’s all about the relationships you build, so I accept it for all of us. We all do the same mahi at the end of the day,” she says.

My Life to Live

The Lives of Refugee Background Workers

The Living Wage Movement and ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum launched a photo exhibition in June that explored and celebrated the lives of Wellington workers from refugee backgrounds. Three of the participants were E tu members and their photos and stories were simply stunning. The exhibition celebrated their joy while also portraying their struggle. Here are some of the amazing photos.

Photography by Ehsan Hazaveh.

Living Wage for Hutt City Council contract cleaners

So close, Hutt City Council, so close! While they already pay the Living Wage to their directly employed workers, the Council voted in early July to extend the Living Wage to their contract cleaners, effective 18 August. This is great news for our cleaning members there, like Toreka Tanu, who explains how much it means for her.

“Oh, I was so happy, because it’s very helpful for me, my kids, and my family,” says Toreka.

“The best thing with the Living Wage is having enough in my hands for the finances. Everything is so expensive: the bills, the shopping, clothes – everything I need to support the family,” she says.

Instead of the minimum wage of $17.70, Toreka will earn the current Living Wage of $20.55, which increases to $21.15 on 1 September. E tū will continue to campaign to secure the Living Wage for other contracted workers.

Porirua City Council has also voted to pay its directly employed workers the Living Wage from next year. However, contract council workers aren’t included, and they should be, says OCS cleaner Salota Sami, who earns the minimum wage.

“I want my wage to increase to $21.15 too,” says Salota. “I need it to support my family and my health. I have high blood pressure and diabetes and sometimes I can’t afford my medication. We need the Living Wage too!”

Election Forums

Campaigning in the local body elections 2019 is well underway and the Living Wage Movement will again be hosting its popular forums, so the public can hear directly from the candidates. Each candidate will be asked to make a commitment to supporting a Living Wage Council which means paying the Living Wage to their directly employed and contracted workers.

Taranaki delegate takes the lead on the Just Transition

Six years after Tegel Taranaki Head Delegate Charlie Ross took on the role, he’s watching workforce changes make an impact on the union. Charlie has helped grow membership to about 100 members – about 50% density. He says he’d like to do better but high turnover means constant new faces on the factory floor, many of them young people who, Charlie says, know little about unions.

“They don’t really know what a union is, so it’s hard,” he says. It’s certainly not like the old days when young workers were automatically signed up, like Charlie was. Charlie makes sure these workers see the union in action on site: “I did that with one of our young guys, I went to a meeting with him and showed him what we do as union reps. Afterwards, he said, ‘Thanks for that, bring a form in and I’ll join.’”

Young workers are important to Charlie’s kaupapa: it’s why he became involved in the Just Transition work in Taranaki, where E tū plays a strong role. “It’s our future, for our mokopuna and that’s why I decided to take part,” he says.

Charlie was in our E tū delegation at the Just Transition Summit in New Plymouth, and was, like most, left a bit shell-shocked by the scale of the event and the challenges ahead.
“That was an amazing thing, quite engrossing, a huge thing to get your head around,” says Charlie. He says it’s been an amazing journey, from the pre-Summit meetings to the Summit itself as well as the post Summit meetings, where our delegates have been exploring how to put a Just Transition into action.

Charlie was recently invited to Parihaka as part of the post-Summit out-reach programme to update the community on Summit initiatives, like the Roadmap. He says he was surprised to learn how well-briefed local iwi were: “They had people who went to the Summit! Their delegates really enjoyed it,” says Charlie.

It’s a measure of how involved people in the region are – but not everyone. Charlie is disappointed in the obvious disinterest of farmers, few of whom attended the Summit. He’s finding climate change a difficult subject to raise even at on-site union meetings, as he did recently. “We brought the subject up. I got abused by our members. They said: ‘What do we want to know about 2050; that’s all political, Charlie.’”

Charlie says that’s mainly older members, but he’s pleased that many others were interested enough to ask questions, fill out forms, and to get involved.

Charlie is very aware of the need for action, not just talk post-Summit: “How about instead of that $20 million research they just buy up farms and make things happen,” he says.

Well, everyone in Taranaki has an opinion on where to next!

Meanwhile, Charlie promotes decent jobs with good pay and conditions for workers in any Just Transition: “It’s important – family, good pay, standard of living, and the Living Wage.”

“Right now” the time to make climate plans

Following the Taranaki 2050 Just Transition Summit, our delegates have been busy with meetings on their worksites to discuss what firms can do to reduce carbon emissions. The work, dubbed CPOW (Climate Proof our Work) is an initiative of the International Trade Union Congress to raise workers’ awareness of climate change.

Delegate Tim Chadwick met with his employers at the New Plymouth District Council’s wastewater plant and says council initiatives include building roads with plastic in the tar-seal and introducing electric-powered rubbish trucks, “in a really short timeframe”.

“The Council is definitely leaning into this. I was impressed,” says Tim.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with the E tū Just Transition team

Taranaki is serious about a Just Transition, with the Summit bringing together government, non-government organisations, and business, for an intense two days of innovative, provocative and challenging presentations.

“For somebody coming from a site as a delegate, to be around all the bigwigs, hearing the talk, it’s been quite impressive, you know, to see the powers that be talking to me in ways that I understand and seeing ways that it’s going to affect us in a very simple A to B kind of way – I’ve been pretty impressed by that,” says Mark Anderson, delegate at OceanaGold in Waihi.

Most delegates report a surge of hope post-Summit.

“I believe it’s a beginning and I feel it’s a strong beginning,” says McKechnie delegate Leilani Bennett. “I think from here we actually need specifics and that’s what I’d like to see come out of the next phase of this.”

Balance Nutrients delegate Sean Hindson agrees: “We needs specifics and to get some legislation passed, so we know that this is going to be a reality instead of just a yarn between a few people. But all in all, it’s been very, very positive.”

Violence on the wards: security review

After a string of violent assaults on our hospital security guard members, and media reports of violence on hospital wards, District Health Boards (DHBs) have agreed to your union’s request for a review of hospital security.

Discussions are underway at the Canterbury DHB, where four of our guards were injured in recent months. The DHB’s security contractor is Allied Security, which is also the provider for the Waikato DHB, where another two of our security guard members were attacked. Our member, Sharleen Harney-Kiriona, who is one of those guards, faces months of recovery for broken bones in her arm, hands, and face.

Sharleen is gagged by Allied Security from speaking publicly, but her children have spoken out, revealing chronic understaffing which saw their mother hounded by Allied Security to work every spare moment.

“My mum was constantly called in. They’d almost harass her,” says daughter Tajuana Eltringham. “She’d ignore it, then they’d phone her using a private number, so she’d pick up the phone. They tried Facebook Live, Messenger… and she’d already worked for 60 hours.

“Some weeks she wasn’t home at all, with no days off, not even one, and she’s supposed to have three. It’s ridiculous how much she was working and wearing herself out for the amount she was paid as well,” she says.

Meanwhile, enquiries by our Hamilton organiser have revealed major health and safety failings and omissions at the Waikato DHB, including a failure to properly log and investigate incidents.

But in fact, the problems are nationwide, with our members reporting chronic under-staffing, a lack of proper training, and constant assaults on the wards.

Your union’s preference is to see services brought in-house as is the case at Auckland DHB, with Bay of Plenty DHB soon to follow suit. Your union believes the standards are better because the DHB is accountable. That issue will be fully examined as part of the review.

“It’s about looking at different models and what’s working,” says E tū Auckland delegate Laufili Moli, who will be taking part in the review.

“I’ve seen myself when our service was brought in-house, we saw a big improvement in our training and the support we get from other staff. Last week I had to restrain a patient, and one of the nurses who had received some basic calming and restraint training helped me until reinforcements could arrive. I don’t think that would’ve happened before.”

Contract protection support sought for guards

New steps are being taken to protect security guards from having their conditions of employment reduced when there is a change of contract for security services.

E tū has lodged an application with the Minister of Employment Relations, Iain Lees-Galloway, to have security officers covered under Schedule 1A of the Employment Relations Act, and therefore protected in the event of transfer or sale of a business, as cleaners and catering workers are currently.

This means that if a security company loses a contract, the workers keep their jobs, pay, and conditions and simply move to the new company if they wish.

Air NZ HSR of the Year

Congratulations to E tū member Brent Armitage, who is this year’s Safeguard Health and Safety Representative of the Year.

Brent’s award recognises his outstanding work as an HSR, working as a loader at Air New Zealand. Brent first became aware of health and safety processes while working in the mining industry in Australia: “We had health and safety on steroids there,” he says.

Brent’s leadership skills mean he’s now been promoted to the role of health and safety advisor for Auckland Airport, a role he loves. “I just want people to go home safe,” he says.

Runanga push for more Maori HSRs

A project is underway to lift the number of Maori Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) on worksites.

An initiative of our Runanga, Convenor Sharryn Barton says government figures show Maori are under-represented as HSRs.

“It’s very bad, given high Maori employment in health care, manufacturing, and other industries we represent,” says Sharryn. “Our people are being hurt and dying on the work site,” she says.

Sharryn says most Maori E tū members are women working in care and support, and public and commercial services. She says precarious work is now showing up as a big health and safety risk, particularly for mental health, with Waitangi Tribunal research revealing stress and anxiety are serious issues for these women.

“We had an example of a woman working in aged care and she was only getting five to 10 hours a week. She can’t go anywhere because she waits for the phone call to come in and work. She’s anxious all the time and she’s getting sick. It’s a health and safety issue but it’s also undermining of mana wahine,” says Sharryn.

IDEA Services HSR Fleur Jane, who is Maori, supports the drive for more Maori HSRs on worksites.

“I think it’s good to have Maori involved. Being Maori, they get a little bit shy and don’t say a lot about anything. It’s important to have someone to talk to and to help them if they want it and they tend to be more open with someone who’s Maori,” says Fleur.

She says New Zealand’s colonial history often means there are trust issues for Maori, who see the Pakeha way of doing things prevailing. However, she says things are improving, with another HSR joining her soon.

“Balance is a good thing. I’m the connection between management and staff for those sorts of things and hopefully things will start moving.”