Author: E tū

Why New Zealand needs Fair Pay Agreements

By E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman, as published on Stuff on 3 June 2021:

It has been 30 years since the Employment Contracts Act 1991 removed sector-wide bargaining from our industrial relations system, implementing one of the most radical individualised employment relations systems in the world.

In-work poverty simply was not a reality of New Zealand life at the time, but in the intervening 30 years it has become an albatross around this country’s neck, dragging down household incomes, local economies and national standards at work.

The recently proposed law to establish Fair Pay Agreements is about sector-wide bargaining for minimum standards that ensure decent work, where workers earn enough to live on and receive the protections that any developed country should expect for its workforce.

Sector-wide bargaining is just that – it means negotiating employment agreements that cover whole sectors and industries, whether that’s security, cleaning, home-care work or retail (those workers we have come to appreciate as our essential workforce in the age of Covid-19).

Most developed economies have some form of sector-wide bargaining and the OECD promotes the concept as benefiting workers, businesses and the wider community. This is a reversal of the position they held in the 90s, when the experiment of deregulation ran wild. It’s time now for us to catch up to the 21st century.

Closer to home, the case for sector-wide bargaining was put forward in independent research conducted by Business and Economic Research (BERL). The evidence is clear: there is no economic reason not to implement sector bargaining but many social and individual wellbeing reasons to do so.

Fair Pay Agreements will not be a return to the awards system, nor to the much-maligned compulsory unionism of yesteryear, but rather they will help us re-establish notions of decent work, where workers and their families can thrive and fully participate as active citizens in society, safe in the knowledge that stability, security, safety and liveable incomes are assured.

One problem that highlights the need for workplace transformation is the contracting model. Services like cleaning and security are delivered by businesses that contract to a third party, the “client”. The in-built competitive tendering for services drives the cost of the contract down in a race to the bottom, where the most vulnerable workers bear the cost in loss of hours, poverty wages, and inadequate health and safety practices.

Some employers report that they would much prefer to pay decent wages but cannot do so while being undermined by the “cowboys” paying the bare minimum. Fair Pay Agreements would mean services compete on the quality of the service rather than the cost of the labour.

Most unfortunately, some commentators have chosen to misrepresent Fair Pay Agreements. It is important that we set the record straight, in order to have a properly informed public conversation.

It has been suggested that only a small number of unions and employers will have a say in the negotiation of a Fair Pay Agreement.

This is categorically untrue.

Every single worker and employer will have the opportunity to be represented in negotiations and to vote on the agreement itself.

Fair Pay Agreements come into force through a majority ratification of the parties.

Only when bargaining is protracted and ratification fails twice, or because the parties choose to, is there a determination through the Employment Relations Authority.

To suggest that a much-improved system for workplace democracy is somehow unfair is quite disingenuous.

Some argue that Fair Pay Agreements would add an extra layer of complexity for affected employers. In fact, the status quo, which sees most workers on individual employment agreements, is far more complex.

By collectivising and centralising the bargaining process, employers can simply apply the terms and conditions set in the Fair Pay Agreement, knowing they are meeting the market standard.

It is time we normalise decent work and discourage arguments that anyone – the worker, the business or the economy – benefits from exploitation and poverty. We all lose. The current pandemic has exposed how interconnected all our lives are in this small country.

Fair Pay Agreements are just a mechanism to normalise decent behaviour at work, things like the Living Wage, protection against unsafe practices, 10 days of sick leave and the right skills to do the job. Who can argue for less?

Nelson Mandela said: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” Let’s normalise a decent life with Fair Pay Agreements.

The Government is expected to take Fair Pay Agreement legislation to Parliament before the end of the year.

We must be on the lookout for bad faith arguments and ensure that our collective will to improve our working lives is the winner on the day.

Whakatāne Mill to stay open under new owner

Whakatāne Mill will stay open with the sale to the new owner now finalised.

The mill, one of the largest employers in the region, has been bought by The Smurfit Consortium with the buyout announced on Monday.

More than 150 people are employed at the mill, which is long established for producing folding box board and has been running since the 1930s.

Longstanding E tū delegate for 20 years at the site, Robert de Raat, says most are pleased the mill will not be closing.

“There are families where three or four generations have worked at the mill, and people want to see this employment opportunity stay for their kids.”

E tū organiser for Whakatāne Mill, Fiona McQueen, says there’s a sense of relief the months of uncertainty have come to an end.

“People wanted the doors to stay open so that jobs could remain in this community, and we have worked with the company to make sure there’s good outcomes and benefits for all involved.”

Assistant National Secretary for E tū Annie Newman says although the mill’s future is now secure, the upheaval in many industries, due to factors such as globalisation and climate change, highlights the need for a national strategy around the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ for workers.

“We need to ensure the future of work is about decent jobs and income stability – making sure people are prepared for change and have the opportunities to upskill and retrain when needed.

“Their voices also need to be at the heart of creating the solutions that will guide their working futures.”


Saliva testing “major advance” for aviation and border workers­­

E tū aviation and border workers are looking forward to the Government’s rollout of saliva testing, which will reduce the frequency of tests done via nasal swab.

The option of saliva testing for COVID-19 for border workers will start from June, with high-risk workers prioritised first.

It means this group of workers who are subject to compulsory testing will only need to have a nasopharyngeal test every 14 days, instead of every seven days.

Saliva tests will be done around every three days in between compulsory nasal swabs.

E tū delegate and international cabin crew member Tony Quayle says he’s “heartened” to hear about the rollout of saliva testing.

“This will be a major advance on what we’ve got at the moment – anything that’s less invasive will be good.

“There are concerns for cabin crew having to get nasal swabs so often – at home and overseas – and about the long-term effects of that. The body isn’t designed to have things going up your nose all the time and repeated trauma to this area is something to consider.”

Tony says many cabin crew members have also felt “traumatised” by overseas testing – previously via a throat swab, but now a nasal swab – which is compulsory in several destinations.

“In Shanghai, for example, they require the nasal swabs to be done in both nostrils. When you’re having that done, combined with compulsory testing back home, it makes you really concerned about the whole process,” he says.

“Even though most of us have been vaccinated, our worlds have become quite uncomfortable with the restrictions and things we are doing to keep people safe. In that sense, the introduction of saliva testing is big bonus.”

E tū’s head of aviation, Savage, says the announcement is positive news for anyone who has to undergo regular tests – particularly international cabin crew.

“Cabin crew who fly internationally are currently subject to a test via nasal swab in New Zealand every seven days.

“The new saliva tests will mean they’re now able to push this out to every fortnight, with the saliva tests acting as a supplementary test in between.”

Enduring a regular test every seven days, combined with testing requirements at certain destinations, has been an intrusive and uncomfortable procedure for cabin crew and other E tū members, Savage says.

“It’s a routine they have endured for the good of all Kiwis and to keep each other, their families, and their communities safe.

“To be able to lessen that imposition on crew, and eventually other border workers, is an incredibly positive step,” he says.

Savage says a “very high percentage” of those who work at the border are now fully vaccinated or on their way to being fully vaccinated.

“High vaccination rates mean the risk of infection is lower, but workers are also less likely to show symptoms if they do become unwell – frequent saliva testing can help in this regard.”


For more information and comment:
Savage, 027 590 0074

Essential migrant support workers relieved visa shock reversed

Hundreds of essential skilled migrant workers in the aged care and disability support sectors are relieved they can go back to work without the fear of being stood down, now that their lesser-paid ‘sleepover’ or overnight shifts will no longer count towards the remuneration terms of their visa.

In April, Immigration New Zealand determined that sleepover rates – which are paid at minimum wage of $20 per hour rather than the workers’ normal hourly pay rate – would be used in the calculation to assess their earnings, a key condition of their visa.

Essential Skills or Skilled Migrant Category work visas require aged care and disability support workers to paid at a minimum of $25.50 per hour or above for 30 hours per week.

However, many in the sector work both day and sleepover shifts, and the inclusion of the sleepover rate was bringing down their average pay rate too low to meet the remuneration requirements of their visa.

E tū delegate and health and safety representative Manni Sardana, who has a current visa, says due to Immigration New Zealand changing the regulation, her employer stood her down from her sleepover shifts for two weeks.

“The people I support were asking me why I was leaving them. I had to tell them I didn’t know who would be coming at night.

“They were furious as they don’t have the same trust in relieving workers. They can have a relaxed, sound sleep when they know the person staying over.”

Distressed, Manni immediately made contact with E tū and reached out to others to see what could be done.

She says although her manager was supportive, the experience had been stressful, and she will be seeking backpay for her regular missed sleepover shifts.

E tū health director Sam Jones says the impact on workers and the potential for thousands with disabilities to be left without support meant the union acted quickly to address the issue.

“We fully support the changes made by Immigration New Zealand to remove the sleepover rate from the wage rate calculations for the affected visa categories. This issue had the potential to affect hundreds of our members.

“It’s great to see a sensible and quick solution has been reached, ensuring the most vulnerable in our communities will receive the support they deserve, and that this group of support workers and their families can continue to earn a living and provide this crucial support, as they did during COVID-19.

The regulation change is effective from 24 May.

Sam says now Immigration New Zealand has reversed its decision, essential skilled migrants are fine to work their sleepover shifts – as long as they are guaranteed a minimum of 30 hours of work outside of that at or above the required hourly rate.

Having the 30-hours-per-week requirement also functions as protection for essential skilled migrant workers, he says.

However, Sam says the support sector still needs to raise the sleepover rate for workers.

“We won the right to proper wages for sleepover shifts back in 2012, when we proved this particular shift counted as ‘work’.

“Now it’s time for the Government to fund providers in the sector to step up and ensure sleepover pay rates match workers’ hourly day rate.”


For more information and comment:
Sam Jones, 027 544 8563

Support workers “can’t stop smiling”: Budget funds properly paid breaks & travel time

With funding confirmed in Budget 2021, home and community support workers will soon be paid their normal hourly rate while driving from one client to another.

Until now, this essential health workforce was only paid the minimum wage for ‘in between travel time’. Before 2015 they didn’t get a cent. Now there’s $81.822 million locked in to fund fair, consistently paid travel-for-work over the next four years.

Two unions represent support workers, the Public Service Association and E tū. Members of both organisations are celebrating the news, but they’re also reflecting on the long-haul campaign it took. 

E tū delegate and support worker Tarsh Dixon has been on the frontlines campaigning for better conditions in the sector, along with more sick leave for all workers.

Tarsh 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.”

Tarsh says having 10 days sick leave is also “amazing news”. She’s a solo mum, and her job has been threatened when she took time off to care for her daughters when they were ill. There was no one else.

She’s getting ready for the next battle; securing more guaranteed hours so she doesn’t have to “desperately ask around for clients” to survive.

Tarsh believes union activism has won progress for home support workers: “Working collectively with a vision is the reason we’ve got this far.”

Her sentiments are echoed by PSA delegate and support worker Jenny Goodman, who has spent years active in her union’s campaign to get consistent pay for all hours worked.

“I’m ecstatic. I can’t stop smiling, it’s long overdue justice,” says PSA delegate and support worker Jenny Goodman.

“If I worked in an office and the boss told me to deliver a parcel across town, then told me as I walked out the door my pay was dropping to minimum wage on the road, I wouldn’t agree to do it.”

Jenny never gave up hope, but it hasn’t been easy. She feels support workers have “soldiered on”, despite unjust treatment, in part because they are so dedicated to the clients they care for.

“We were told the funding isn’t there, if you want paid breaks you have to take it out of a client’s time,” she says.

“That puts you in the moral dilemma of deciding which elderly, vulnerable client you take support away from. It’s not a choice we’re prepared to make, so all too often we just didn’t get breaks.”

E tū health director Kirsty McCully says the increase to in-between travel rates and sick leave is a double win, and the government’s allocation of $8 million to fund an Aged Care Commissioner will support system-wide reforms.

“For so long, our members have fought for vital improvements to their working conditions,” she says.

“Now it feels like they are finally being recognised and appreciated.”

PSA Assistant National Secretary Melissa Woolley congratulates union members for remaining determined through thick and thin.

“This is a great start which fixes some issues for workers. However, the government still urgently needs to implement a shift model with guaranteed hours to provide secure work and secure pay,” she says.

“Support workers essentially have slightly prettier versions of zero-hour contracts. This must change.”


For more information and comment:
Kirsty McCully, 027 204 6354

Weeks of uncertainty ahead for Kawerau Mill workers

Workers at Kawerau’s pulp and paper mill are facing weeks of uncertainty as their employer, Norske Skog, have commenced with a consultation process about the future of the mill, including potential closure.

More than 150 workers, including 30 E tū members, are affected by the proposal, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon.

E tū Engineering, Infrastructure and Extractions Industry Council Convenor and site delegate Bruce Habgood says in the wake of the proposal, there is “lots and lots of uncertainty” for members.

“There’s simply lots of uncertainty – until we can get around the table and have some meaningful conversation with the company.

“At this stage there are no guarantees, and a lot of people are in limbo.”

Bruce says although many workers don’t live in the Kawerau township itself, any potential closure would inevitably have a further-reaching effect on other local businesses and suppliers.

“The future of work and manufacturing is the issue here – the situation shows how vital industry transformation is and to ensure a Just Transition for all affected workers.”

E tū organiser at the Kawerau Mill Raymond Wheeler says while the consultation has started, as it is still in the very early stages, the union cannot draw any conclusions on potential outcomes as details have not been fully disclosed.

“Our priority is supporting our members – we are there to support both them and the community during the consultation period.”

The consultation is expected to run for two weeks.


For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Security guards’ job terms and conditions legally protected from July

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.

E tū delegate and security guard Jayson Ormsby says the news is a “great accomplishment” for those in the industry.

“I always found it odd that security work was never secure. I feel really glad and happy for those workers who will now be protected, who may have lost a lot of entitlements due to contract changes in the past.”

E tū Organiser Mat Danaher says the inclusion of security guards as protected workers under Part 6A is a really positive step forward.

“At last, security guards will have some certainty as to their pay rate and benefits when they are moving from one contract and employer to another.

“They’ll have access to the hard-earned leave they’ve accumulated and won’t have to start from zero each time a contract changes hands.”

Jayson says he hopes the new law will be the start of a better foundation of employment conditions for guards, who are also campaigning for Fair Pay Agreements or industry-wide regulation across employers.

“Security guards are usually paid different rates at different sites, and they don’t have control over the sites they are deployed to work at – Fair Pay Agreements are definitely needed.”

Mat says the Part 6A protection is the first of many changes that are needed in order to create real certainty and security in the lives of this group of workers.

“We see this as important milestone in working towards Fair Pay Agreements, which will stop the inevitable driving down of workers’ terms and conditions in a ‘race to the bottom’ as employers compete for contracts.

“All security guards deserve certainty in their employment conditions and to be paid at least the Living Wage, regardless of the site they are working on.

“These workers provide a valuable and important service, while also often facing personal risk on the job,” Mat says.

“E tū will continue to campaign with and on behalf of security guards to see them further protected and the industry transformed.”


For more information and comment:
Mat Danaher, 021 336 519

Shock redundancy proposal at Nestlé confectionery factory

Auckland’s Nestlé workers are in shock at a restructuring proposal which would see almost 40% of their site’s union members lose their jobs, with plans to stop confectionery manufacturing at the plant altogether.

On Wednesday, Nestlé revealed its plan to make around 40 workers redundant at its Wiri site, due to several of its product lines now slated to be produced in Australia and another product line proposed to be outsourced to a third-party manufacturer.

If confirmed, the redundancies would go ahead in December.

According to the proposal, the redundancies are part of a plan to completely shut down the confectionery manufacturing arm of its Wiri site.

E tū’s National Executive Northern Region Representative Gadiel Asiata, who also works in food manufacturing, says the news is a huge shock and will likely have a ripple effect on the community.

“Nestlé is one of those companies that has supported South Auckland for a long time, and it has been the main source of income for a lot of people in that community.

“It’s really sad that it’s come to this – we’re potentially losing something that generates jobs, along with workers who have been at the company for many years.”

E tū Team Leader Jen Natoli says the blow is reminiscent of the Cadbury closure in Dunedin in 2018 and serves as a stark reminder of yet another global corporate making a decision, without proper regard for how it affects workers.

Many workers have invested many years of their lives to make the company successful, she says.

“The size of the confectionery manufacturing plant and the number of jobs it provides to South Auckland workers is significant.

“When large companies, such as Nestlé, come into the country to do business and then leave when they find a better deal elsewhere, it can devastate local communities – especially now when we need to invest in recovery and rebuilding.”

Jen says should the proposal go ahead, E tū is calling on Nestlé to do the right thing to ensure none of its workers are without jobs come Christmas.

“This means redeployment, getting members’ skills credentialed and qualified, actively working with E tū to find alternative employment, and making sure those members who find new jobs are able to exit when they need to with their full redundancy entitlements.”

Jen says in the wake of COVID-19, it’s obvious that decent work not only includes decent pay and a safe work environment, but also stability and security.

Decisions need to be made with workers at the forefront, and we will be fighting to ensure Nestlé’s workers get a fair deal.”

According to the Dun & Bradstreet Business Directory, Nestlé New Zealand has 356 employees (all locations) and generated $277.79 million (USD) in in 2019.


For more information and comment:
Jen Natoli, 027 591 0041

Lifewise under fire over treatment of homecare support workers and café fundraising drive

Homecare support workers employed by Lifewise – a church charity – are resorting to picketing yet again, as the organisation continues to refuse to negotiate liveable pay and better conditions, while also facing criticism over a recent fundraising campaign.

Lifewise is a charitable trust which is a part of the Methodist Church of New Zealand. The organisation has come under fire this week, as reported by The Spinoff, about the lack of transparency in its latest fundraising drive for Merge Café – a service it runs for homeless people in Auckland.

Meanwhile, E tū Lifewise homecare support members have been striking and picketing since December for increased sick and bereavement leave and fair hours of work to be incorporated into a first-time collective agreement.

Lifewise also threatened members with three separate lockout periods in February and reneged on improved leave and conditions agreed on before the first COVID-19 lockdown.

An E tū Lifewise member, who prefers not to be named, says they feel like the organisation is ignoring them.

“It’s going on two years of negotiations now and no results. We’re voicing all the nitty gritty about what we want in our collective, but it doesn’t seem to register,” she says.

“It’s like they’re not listening, they’re not really taking our needs into consideration. It’s the necessities we’re asking for – it’s not going to break the bank.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says the moves by the charity are some of the most “aggressive” she’s ever seen against workers in the homecare sector.

“For the past four months, Lifewise workers have been driven to fight publicly for reasonable, simple improvements to their pay and conditions – all while their employer has tried to intimidate and disrespect with lockouts and broken promises.

“It seems like a crazy response when you consider the request: several additional days of sick and bereavement leave, and fair guaranteed hours, so that these already low-paid workers are not left struggling,” she says.

“It makes absolutely no sense to us that a church organisation, and a seemingly well-endowed one at that, is refusing to treat its own workers with integrity and to fund these modest, yet vital improvements.”

Desperation drove workers to the picket line in December, as they have now been in negotiations for their first collective agreement since mid-2019, Kirsty says.

“If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s the value of health and healthcare services.

“We can’t forget that Lifewise workers do jobs most of us wouldn’t or can’t – caring for the sick, elderly, and vulnerable in our communities.

“As an employer with such community standing and mission, Lifewise has a responsibility to ensure its own workers are looked after too.”

Lifewise community picket

When: Friday 19 March

Where: Outside Lifewise’s head office, 385 Queen Street, Auckland 1011

Time: 12.30pm–2.30pm

Available: Homecare delegates will be available for comment at the picket. Please contact Kirsty McCully for more information and to be put in touch with delegates.


For more information and comment contact:
Kirsty McCully
027 204 6354