Weathering another COVID-19 storm

Bill Newson, E tū National Secretary

Welcome to this latest edition of our union magazine.

With the re-emergence of COVID-19 cases in our community this August, we are reminded again how serious the global pandemic is. This magazine has been put together during lockdown, and some things could change between the time of writing and when you are reading it.

With that said, there is a lot of great stuff for us to report since our last magazine. From our industrial work to our campaigning wins, we have mid-year momentum, and our union can tackle the challenges that COVID-19 presents. We’ve done it before.

I would particularly like to welcome our new E tū members. In the past three months, over 3,000 working New Zealanders made the decision to become E tū members. Thanks for joining us.

E tū members have a say

The strength of our union can be judged by the depth of our democracy and there are lots of ways E tū members can engage in our union, including standing for workplace delegate, attending our events, and getting involved in our democratic structures, such as industry councils, Te Runanga, Women’s Committee, Komiti Pasefika, the Trades Reference Group, and the Youth Network.

Our E tū Trades Reference Group (TRG) has been appointed by the National Executive for the next two-year term from among expressions of interest by trades’ members.

We have also launched the new E tū Migrant Network, to ensure that the voices of migrant workers are heard loud and clear in our union and wider communities.

We have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Biennial Membership Meetings (BMMs) as a result of the raised Alert Levels and heightened risk. However, we have still been running elections for two positions on National Executive, the Central and Southern Regional Representatives. Members will be sent the election results shortly after the vote closes.

Vaccination is a huge priority

We are in a race between the COVID-19 mutations like the Delta variant and mass community-wide vaccination. E tū supports the Government’s prioritised vaccination campaign and encourages members and their families to participate. This latest outbreak shows just how necessary the vaccine is.

COVID-19 will continue to complicate things for a long time to come. E tū is prepared for this. Unionists know the power of collective action and taking actions like getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are ways of looking out for each other – they are acts of solidarity.

E tū walks the talk on Decent Work

E tū is a leading voice for decent jobs and we are a key co-sponsor of the ‘Decent Work Summit’ being held in Auckland in next February.

We have launched E tū Job Match to connect members, who are looking for work, and employers looking for staff. This is about supporting members to find jobs with decent union conditions, and the service is free for E tū members.

We can help members find work, prepare a CV and prepare for job interviews.  I think all E tū members would be proud of this service, take a look at and keep it in mind.

Norske Skog Kawerau and Whakatane Mill

I acknowledge E tū members who were gutted by the news that Norske Skog’s Kawerau Mill is ceasing production and all employees will cease employment by the end of August. The closure of the mill leaves a huge gap in the local community and a lack of opportunities for future generations.

I acknowledge site delegate Bruce Habgood, who has served our union at the highest governance level for many years. Bruce and other delegates have been working hard with management to help members prepare for an uncertain future, including a good union redundancy compensation package.

On a more positive note, production and maintenance workers represented by E tū and First Union at Whakatane Mill, had the choice to retain employment under a deal secured by the unions with the new owner of the mill. I acknowledge our delegates who played a key role in negotiations to maintain jobs with the new owner.

Challenging the ‘Uber’ employment model

I know that many E tū members are concerned about the exploitation of workers in the ‘gig’ economy.  E tū believes that all workers should be entitled to have minimum employment conditions and protections from unfair treatment at work. There has been a lot of action in this space internationally.

In New Zealand, E tū and First Union are taking Uber to court with a claim that its drivers are entitled to the protection of employment law. We are seeking a determination from the Employment Court that the drivers are employees.

E tū Solidarity Membership

E tū makes a strong stand for better working lives and we can be proud of our goals of a wages-led recovery, decent jobs, health and wellbeing, a better say at work, and our push for equality.

Many members, and others, share those values and we are relaunching our E tū Solidarity Membership to enable people to contribute just a couple of dollars a week to help us achieve that shared purpose.

It’s voluntary, it can be just a couple of dollars a week, and members can discontinue at any time.  We know we make a bigger difference when we all work together – that’s what being union is all about.  If you can afford to spare just a couple of dollars per week, just click here to join up.

A salute to long-term union commitment

In closing, I want to acknowledge John Gibb, a long-term member and delegate at the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin until he retired in June.

John was a committed union member for more than 36 years and he was described by fellow delegate Rebecca Fox as a “key weapon in wage negotiations and the go-to man for anyone in a bit of strife”.  E tū South Island Vice President Ray Pilley, presented John with an E tū Certificate of Merit on behalf of the National Executive at his retirement function. Solidarity with you, John.

Please take the time to read our magazine and thank you for being an E tū member.