Author: E tū

Workers rejoice as Fair Pay Agreement Bill gets First Reading

The First Reading of the Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) Bill in Parliament today has been met by applause from low-paid workers across the country.

The bill will enable workers and their unions to negotiate minimum pay and conditions with their employers, which will then become minimum standards for the whole industry.

E tū member and security guard, Kajal Mani, is thrilled.

“As a young mother and a security guard, I am very excited to have Fair Pay Agreements here in Aotearoa,” Kajal says.

“It will mean better work conditions to keep me safe, to return home to my young family. It will mean fair wages so that I don’t have to work long hours, which supports holistic health and wellbeing for all.

“FPAs will also mean equality for all workers and effective partnership between unions and good employers to stop the race to the bottom.”

E tū member and cleaner, Madeleine Natua, agrees.

“Introducing Fair Pay Agreements will help a lot the lowest paid workers and our families, as it will set a benchmark in improving our terms and conditions to stop the race to the bottom,” Madeleine says.

“For so long, 30 years or so, New Zealand has been a low wage economy. Fair Pay Agreements will help lift Aotearoa to a high wage economy, and when workers are paid more, they will feel valued and appreciated.

“Long term, this will help lift hard working Kiwis, their whanau, and their communities out of poverty, which will also benefit everyone, including local businesses.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary, Annie Newman, says that the Fair Pay Agreements Bill gets right to the heart of the issues facing workers like Kajal and Madeleine.

“Today is an exciting and historic day for Aotearoa,” Annie says.

“The Fair Pay Agreements Bill sets out a comprehensive framework for finally getting some of our lowest paid and most vulnerable workers the respect and dignity they deserve at their jobs.

“It means more time with family, more money for food, rent, and other expenses, better access to health and safety, better training, and much more.

“It gives workers and employers the flexibility to negotiate fair minimum standards properly and means that good employers won’t be undercut by cowboys, who win contracts by giving their workers the lowest possible wages and conditions.

“Along with commitments to the New Zealand Income Insurance Scheme, the Living Wage, and a Just Transition, Fair Pay Agreements show that this Government really is transformational.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340

FPAs will be the best change for workers in decades

E tū is thrilled to welcome the introduction of the Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) Bill to Parliament today.

The bill will provide a regulatory foundation for setting pay and conditions across whole industries, through negotiations between employers and workers through their unions.

This will be transformational for many industries, especially those where workers employed by contractors suffer low wages and poor conditions as a result of competitive tendering.

E tū member and security guard, Rosey Ngakopu, is excited about the development.

“It’s awesome that we’re finally here, after years of campaigning,” Rosey says.

“Security guards like myself are ready for FPAs. Having minimum standards across the whole industry will be very important.

“It’s not just about pay. In our industry, guards also need FPAs to ensure we have the right conditions across the board, especially decent training and proper health and safety practices.

“We need an FPA in security, because we are worth more than the bare minimum.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary, Annie Newman, says that FPAs will provide a voice for workers who usually miss out on collective bargaining.

“Low paid workers often simply cannot negotiate fair pay and conditions, as they don’t have proper access to collective bargaining, and wages and conditions are suppressed by competitive tendering.

“Providing this foundation to protect workers from these effects is essential in building an economy that works better for everyone.

Annie says that FPAs make good business sense for firms that want to do the right thing for their workers.

“We’ve heard from employers that they would like to improve things for their workers, but they simply cannot lift wages or meaningfully improve conditions, or they will be undercut by competitors in the tendering process. This creates a race to the bottom – a race that workers lose.

“E tū will continue to work constructively with the Government on developing great FPA legislation as the bill goes through Parliament, and we’re excited about negotiating the first FPAs in Aotearoa very soon.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340

E tū and PSA members at parliament want protesters gone

Union members who work at parliament are calling for an end to intimidation, harassment and violence from the protestors who are occupying Parliament grounds.

A survey this week of members who work in the parliamentary precinct showed over 90 percent of members were either ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the protest and the impact it is having on their health and safety.

E tū and PSA have many different groups of members at parliament, including cleaners, security, Parliamentary Service staff, Ministerial Services staff, Office of the Clerk and DPMC staff and MPs.

The most common reason for concern was worry about the physical safety of their colleagues. Other reasons included worrying about their own safety, being harassed while travelling to and from work, and the safety and wellbeing of children at the protest and in the community around Parliament.

Nearly half of respondents reported being verbally harassed on their way to and from work. Women and younger workers were more likely to be harassed. Six percent of respondents had been physically harassed and over 80 percent knew someone who had been.

There was strong support that the protest should end and protesters be removed from the surrounding streets.

“Imagine it – weeks of people camped outside your workplace targeting you and your colleagues for doing your jobs,” E tū organiser, Anaru Ryall says.

“While almost everyone finds the protests annoying and frustrating, many are finding it genuinely scary, as some of the protesters call for executions and other violence.

“On top of that, they are calling for removal of the public health measures that have kept us safe and continue to keep us from worst effects of the pandemic that we have seen overseas. The level of disinformation about the vaccine is deeply concerning.

“E tū strongly supports the Government’s vaccine roll out plan and urges the protesters to leave peacefully now, and please get vaccinated.”

PSA organiser, David Coates agrees, “Everyone supports the right to protest, to democratically express our views. Nobody disputes that. But these public health measures are in place to keep us ALL safe. To suggest otherwise is a disturbing aspect of the wider spread of disinformation.

“PSA supports the vaccination programme as an important aspect of the Covid-19 response and urges the protesters to leave peacefully and, in the interests of all, to get vaccinated.

“I am sure the results of this survey reflect the concerns of workers throughout the city.

“The impacts of the harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and general intimidation has an obvious and concerning impact on mental wellbeing. This occupation is affecting people’s ability to attend their place of work, to conduct their normal duties and go about their daily lives.”

ENDS

Next steps for social unemployment insurance

E tū is pleased to see progress on the Government’s plan to set up a system for social unemployment insurance.

Similar to ACC, social unemployment insurance would cover a substantial portion of lost income when a worker is made redundant. The details announced today propose that the scheme will cover up to 80% of a worker’s wages for six months, up to $1820 a week. It will be funded by a 1.39% levy on both employers and workers.

E tū has been campaigning for a social unemployment insurance scheme since before the last election. E tū Assistant National Secretary, Annie Newman, says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for better income security.

“While Aotearoa has so far managed to avoid catastrophic levels of unemployment, the pandemic has reminded many of us that pay insecurity could be just around the corner,” Annie says.

“E tū members in some industries like aviation and hospitality have been hit hardest. Many workers have had to quickly find other jobs, sometimes on much lower wages. It’s been extremely difficult.

“Our members have been discussing the idea of social unemployment insurance as part of our Decent Work campaign. There is a lot of enthusiasm for the concept – it makes a lot of sense to workers.

“It’s also reassuring to see that the scheme takes into account the nature of work in the gig economy, where many people have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

“We congratulate the Government, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, and Business New Zealand for working together constructively to design this system.”

Annie notes that social unemployment insurance will not be a panacea for poverty in Aotearoa.

“While this will make a gigantic difference for workers and families who will benefit from it, E tū also supports expanding the wider social safety net, particularly by increasing current welfare payments.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340

Carer’s legal victory shows need for employment reform

The father and full-time caregiver of a severely disabled woman has won his case in the Employment Court arguing that the Ministry of Health, and not his own daughter, is his employer.

The father, Peter Humphreys, was challenging the ‘Funded Family Care Model’, which sees people needing care considered the employers of those providing the care, even if they don’t have the capacity to carry out legal obligations as the employer.

Key to the case were issues like the minimum wage for time worked, the health and safety obligations of the employer, and who directs the work.

The Employment Court declared that Mr Humphreys is in fact employed by the ministry as a homeworker, and that his daughter could not have ever been his employer.

This means that the ministry has a range of obligations and liabilities, including to “remunerate Mr Humphreys appropriately for his work and in respect of health and safety,” the judgment reads.

Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh says the judgment is a great outcome.

“E tū congratulates the Humphreys family on their victory and stands with all people with disabilities and their caregivers as they fight for a fair deal.

“Families in the same situation as the Humphreys have faced ongoing discrimination on pay and conditions from the parts of government which fund vital care work. Often, a family member acting as full-time caregiver actually saves our health system a lot of money, because it lessens the need for other and more expensive service providers.

“For too long, the Ministry of Health has skirted their obligations as the employer, using a model that describes the person needing care as the nominal employer, even when they do not fund or direct the work in any way.

“This judgment challenges that way of thinking, and it’s a very good step.”

Rachel says that the relationship between funders, clients, and workers creates problems across many areas of employment in Aotearoa.

“The case has similarities with Prasad v LSG Sky Chefs, where E tū members successfully argued that their labour hire arrangement did not permit LSG Sky Chefs to dodge their responsibilities as the real employer.

“We see similar issues across sectors that use the contracting model, such as cleaning and security.

“The ‘funder’ is often a large organisation such as a corporate or even a government department, but they have a hands-off approach to the affected workers because of these ‘triangular’ employment arrangements.

“E tū continues to campaign for meaningful solutions to unfair contracting, by supporting legal actions, organising vulnerable workforces, and campaigning for minimum standards to be upheld through mechanisms like Fair Pay Agreements and social procurement.”

ENDS

Lack of PPE puts workers at risk of infection and disease

Today’s announcement about Covid care in the community means that New Zealanders need to be confident that community support workers, who will increasingly be coming into contact with Covid positive people, have the PPE they need including N95 masks, aprons, gloves, and all other adequate PPE for covid infection prevention.

PSA and E tū are the unions for thousands of care and support workers who provide essential health support to people in their own homes.

These care workers are at risk because the gloves being provided to them to deliver personal care are breaking, exposing workers to bodily fluids and putting them at risk of infection and disease.

Southland care and support worker, Samantha says, “It’s not acceptable that we have to wear food grade gloves. Food grade gloves don’t protect us from anything – they roll down our wrists and they break at the fingertips. Sometimes I wear two pairs but even then there’s no guarantee that will protect us from faeces and bodily fluids.”

“You would never see a healthcare worker in a hospital or GP practice wearing food gloves – it’s totally unthinkable. So why does the Ministry of Health think it’s ok for us?”

“Care and support workers are in every community in New Zealand and we are not being protected from Covid or anything else. We need the appropriate PPE, now!”

Another support worker, from Northland, agrees. “We go from home to home providing essential care and support services to vulnerable clients, but the work we do is often misunderstood, and we are treated as the second-class citizens of the health system, when the system couldn’t work without us.”

A care and support worker, who doesn’t want to be named, says the gloves are not appropriate or acceptable for using when caring for clients. “They tear or rip and do not come up far enough on the wrist, which means we get water in them.

“Personal cares with my clients are difficult enough, without constantly having to worry about my own safety when bodily fluids get into my gloves. This is a serious health and safety issue.”

“Like every other support worker, I hope that the providers of these gloves are informed and brought up to speed with the differences between food grade gloves and medical grade gloves – we’re not making sandwiches.”

E tū health director Kirsty McCully says that despite raising the matter with their employers, the Ministry of Health and chief nurse, workers are being told the gloves are safe.

“This simply isn’t their experience. Home support workers put themselves at risk to care for the most vulnerable in our communities at home. That risk increases with Covid circulating in the community too.”

Kirsty says workers need to be listened to: “The health risks they face become risks to everyone eventually, if not managed properly.”

PSA national sector lead Jocelyn Pratt says, “It is shameful that the Ministry of Health is not following its own health and safety guidelines and putting these workers and clients at risk.”

“The gloves used for serving food at a school fundraiser are not the same as the gloves needed when you are providing intimate care for a vulnerable client.”

Jocelyn says these frontline essential workers should be treated with dignity, “This work force is publicly funded but the basic health and safety protections are not being provided to them.”

ENDS

For more information contact:

Liz Robinson | Communications, PSA  [email protected], 027 281 6173

Amy Baker | Communications, E tū [email protected], 022 269 1170

Emissions Reduction Plan – workers need a Just Transition

With the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan consultation document today, workers need assurance there will be a Just Transition that puts their communities at the forefront.

Sam Huggard, Strategic researcher for E tū, Aotearoa’s largest private sector union, says that workers need confidence that the transition to a decarbonised country will be managed fairly, in order for affected workers to get in behind the necessary moves to reduce our emissions.

“The benefits of a more stable climate are for everyone, and so the heavy lifting of decarbonising cannot rest disproportionately on those with fewer resources,” Sam says.

“There absolutely can be a fair pathway to a zero carbon New Zealand, where workers rights are protected, low-income communities’ economic security is safe guarded, and Tiriti partners are co-designing the change.”

Sam says the consultation document does not reflect the importance of this part of the programme strongly enough.

“The document released today is not there yet and is missing core aspects of what we would expect from a Just Transition, and so it is now up to all of us to make sure we get this right. Unions are committed to bringing our experience in managing change to the table to help this.”

Sam says an equitable transition strategy is needed sooner rather than later if we are committed to preventing inequalities as we decarbonise.

“That strategy will need to inform all other parts of the Emissions Reduction Plan itself. It can’t be an add-on or extra chapter on the side.”

“For example, supporting congestion pricing in transport but then also agreeing to “look at ways to reduce the equity/distributional impacts of pricing tools” is problematic – equity needs to be incorporated into the decisions from day one.”

E tū will be mobilising its members to be involved in the consultation and will be seeking commitments to avoid market-based mechanisms that hit low-income workers as we decarbonise, guaranteeing workers a voice in transition processes for their industries, and a stronger focus on equity for Māori and Pacific workers.

E tū Komiti Pasefika calls for unity

The E tū Komiti Pasefika is calling for unity and kindness as Aotearoa bands together once again to eliminate COVID-19 in our community.

The latest outbreak has affected Pacific Island families in particular, which has resulted in a rise in racism, particularly on social media.

E tū National Executive and Komiti Pasefika member Gadiel Asiata says he is proud of the steps his whole community are taking to combat COVID-19.

“Our Pacific Island communities have pulled together to do our bit,” Gadiel says.

“We know that we can’t let this pandemic win. We know it’s important to stay calm, stay home, wear a mask, and adhere to the rules.

“I live with my elderly mother, and with how dangerous the Delta strain is, I know how important it is to stay home to keep my family safe. Many Pasefika people in South Auckland live with their elderly relatives – we know the stakes.

“We can’t let this pandemic divide us.”

Gadiel says that the Government should take any opportunities to work with the Pasefika community to fight the pandemic.

“We have been calling for vaccination stations to be set up at churches and give our community leaders the tools to get our people protected. A good plan needs to be by the community, for the community.”

E tū organiser Fala Haulangi says the backlash against the Pasefika community has left her feeling upset.

“I feel really hurt for my people, as once again there is a narrative out there blaming our Pasefika people instead of blaming COVID-19,” Fala says.

“Our public health officials have praised the Pasefika community for doing the right thing – we are proud of our efforts. We are a very collective community. It is in our DNA and upbringing to always look out for each other.

“So many of our essential workers are Pasefika people as well, they are really holding things together. We need to be so grateful for their work and we owe them heaps.

“We just need to be kind to each other as we fight to stamp out COVID again. Kia kaha, Aotearoa! We have done it before, we can surely do it again!”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Fala Haulangi, 027 204 6332

Blog: Riding the Neo-Liberal Tiger

By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū

Working as a public hospital orderly, food service worker or cleaner in 1991 was not a very exciting job but was critical to the effective functioning of the public hospital system.

Workers employed in these roles by the Wellington Area Health Board were mainly of Maori or Pasifika origin and through their cultural bonds, their union and their solidarity had developed the hospitals into secure and enjoyable places to work.

The only exception were the Wellington Hospital cleaners, whose work had been contracted out since the 1940s and had to face a three-yearly cycle of re-tendering, which could mean their jobs disappearing or their working hours being reduced.

Even the restructuring of the public health service in the 1980s, with the downsizing of psychiatric hospitals, the privatisation of continuing care and the closure of some smaller facilities had not changed their jobs very much and the processes negotiated with their union had ensured that they had input into every change that occurred.

In the 1990s a double attack on this work occurred through the National Government introduction of the Employment Contracts Act, which destroyed nationally consistent pay rates and employment conditions in public hospitals, and the so-called health reforms, which set up the public hospitals as competing business units (Crown Health Enterprises) bidding for contracts from four regional public funding authorities.

The Crown Health Enterprises (CHEs) were established as wholly-owned Crown companies and their boards were made up of people who had private business experience, with almost none having any experience in the public health and disability system. The CHE management teams were appointed on a similar basis, with our local Capital and Coast Health CHE Chief Executive and Human Resources General Manager both coming from Telecom.

The Service Workers Union members employed in the Wellington hospitals did not notice much difference initially although they were notified that the Area Health Board’s Facilities General Manager, John Dixon, had left his employment to form a company called Tempo Health Support, a company that would later have a big impact on their working lives.

John Dixon had previously worked for one of the cleaning contractors and then became the Hutt District Manager of the Wellington Area Health Board. He was a strong advocate for more competition in health and organised lucrative weekend seminars for aspiring health managers in which they played games pretending that they were representing designated public and private health providers competing for public funding.

One of the Hutt District managers, who was appalled by the pending competitive model of healthcare, commented to me that John Dixon was so captured by the game that he thought he could be a winner if he could set up the right service provider.

New manager steps in

John Dixon was replaced in July 1993 by one of his lieutenants, Walter Baumann, who did not have a health sector background, although had worked since 1990 in the Area Health Board facilities department in charge of maintenance services.

Although he admitted later to the Employment Court that he had no specialist knowledge about orderlies, food services or cleaning, he was driven by a strategy of savings in so-called “non-core” services to put more money into medical services. He called it “medical dollars”.

Almost immediately from the time of his appointment as Facilities General Manager he was reviewing options for saving money including contracting the services out. He held a “brainstorming session” with his senior managers, and they agreed that contracting the services out was a good option, even though as he later told the Employment Court, he had no direct personal experience of contracting out.

He approached various contractor companies for expressions of interest in taking over the Capital and Coast CHE orderly, food and cleaning services. This included the newly formed Tempo Health Support.

He knew that the Service Workers Union employment agreement, and the previous Area Health Board protocols, required him to notify the union of any review of services. However, as he later told the Employment Court, he saw these agreements as a “roadblock” to running an effective business, so decided to ignore them.

In late September 1993 the union received calls from hospital members reporting that Walter Baumann had met with them and told them that he was “considering options” for the future of their services, which would include various contracting companies visiting their worksites to have a look at their work.

I contacted Walter Baumann, who denied that any review of services was taking place and said he was merely throwing a few ideas around. I wrote to him seeking an undertaking to cease the review until such time as the union was notified and a mechanism for union involvement was agreed.

On 30 September Walter Baumann, having failed to give the union an undertaking, put out a media statement saying that the CHE was looking for ways to save money in “non-core services” through carrying out services differently.

This was enough for us. The Service Workers Union filed an application in the Employment Court for an interim injunction against the CHE to restrain any further work on the review until such time as the CHE complied with the union employment agreement and the previous Area Health Board protocols.

The application seemed to have the required effect and the CHE agreed to formally initiate a review of orderly, cleaning and catering services with the involvement of the union. This was done on 6 October 1993.

Covert behaviour

On 21 October 1993 I met with two facility services managers and agreed on a mechanism for the review, which would include joint work on the service specifications, a transparent tendering process and once a preferred tenderer was selected a meeting between the union and the CHE to compare the contractor’s proposal with the current in-house provision so hopefully a joint recommendation could be made to Walter Baumann.

While our meeting was taking place to agree on a mechanism for union involvement, Walter Baumann was, as the Employment Court later described it, covertly presenting a proposal to the CHE board. This proposal was to not proceed with a tender, but to support the contracting out of the services to Tempo Health Support.

Without any knowledge of the CHE board’s decision union delegates worked with the facility service managers on the tender specifications, which we thought was to be let in December 1993. We did not know that all our work was in vain, as the decision about the contracting out and preferred contractor had already been made.

From December onwards all communication with Walter Baumann and his team ceased despite numerous calls from the union. On 24 February 1994 new cook-chill carts appeared at Kenepuru Hospital and the food service workers were told they were converting from a cook-fresh to cook-chill system, an option that had not been a specific part of the tender.

An angry threat of union legal action led Walter Baumann to announcing a 1 March meeting to discuss “the next stage of the review”. While the union representatives thought the meeting was to discuss the comparison between the preferred tenderer and the current service, Walter Baumann opened the meeting to announce that the CHE had  awarded the contract for their hospital cleaning, food services and orderlies (at Kenepuru Hospital only) to Tempo Health Support. He then proceeded to introduce Chief Executive of Tempo Health Support, John Dixon, and said the union should talk to him about the transfer of the required staff over to their new employment.

The union was blindsided by this turn of events and realising that the contract was due to start by the end of April 1994 immediately convened meetings with members to discuss the union options.

Members were worried about their jobs, concerned about cook-chill and concerned about the maintenance of their employment conditions during any transfer. Some members wanted to leave provided they were paid redundancy pay while others wanted to fight against the CHE and not let the contracting out take place. Some even blamed the union, believing a deal had been done with the CHE. It was a difficult job working out a union strategy given the divergent member views.

After long discussions the union delegates recommended to members that we should all transfer over to the contractor, that we should seek CHE agreement for the maintenance of all employment conditions during this transfer and subsequent transfers and that the union should submit personal grievances for every member who had been affected by the CHE contracting out decision.

Walter Baumann disappears

Within two weeks of his announcement of the awarding of the contract to Tempo Health Support Walter Baumann was dismissed from his employment at the CHE for reasons that have never been revealed.

Ongoing discussions took place with the CHE management about the transfer of employment and while they agreed that all employment conditions would be maintained during the initial transfer to Tempo Health Support they would make no commitments about transfers if the CHE decided to change contractors in the future.

The first stage of the transfer was due to occur at Kenepuru and Porirua Hospitals with the cleaning and food service workers. On the first day of the transfer all workers were expected to sign-on for employment with Tempo Health Support before they commenced work. While the workers all turned up at their start times they refused to start work or sign-on for employment with Tempo Health Support until the union’s demands for security of employment were met.

The sit-down action brought things to a head very quickly. It was a brave step to take with a lot of risks, but the workers were angry at the way they had been treated and this anger gave them strength.

After CHE threats of dismissals and injunctions (given the workers were no longer employed by the CHE it was difficult to dismiss them or injunct them) they realised that there was no food being produced, so quickly adopted a more conciliatory tone and signed an agreement guaranteeing the continuation of the workers’ employment conditions during this contract change and any future contract changes.

Given that New Zealand workers would not gain the legal protection of maintaining conditions in a transfer from one employer to another until 10 years later this was a great victory, which built solidarity amongst the workers going into an uncertain employment with a new employer.

Personal grievances raised

The next day the personal grievances against the CHE and Tempo Health Support were raised on behalf of nearly 200 union members.

Tempo Health Support, later morphing into Tempo DNC Health Support, had a tumultuous two years in the Capital and Coast CHE services until it went into liquidation leaving the CHE to take the orderlies back in-house and, with few providers to choose from, to mothball the cook-chill equipment and transfer the food service and cleaning services to another contractor on a cost-plus basis.

The personal grievance claims, headed up by union delegates Mihi-Tuarangi Andersen, Randall Peterson, Martha Crawford, Jane Butler, Faye McVicar and Falanika Siania, slowly moved their way through the courts, although it took five years, one strike-out application and two interlocutory hearings before their big day arrived.

On 19 October 1999 the Employment Court hearing opened with a prayer by Union Pasifika Convenor Elizabeth Lee-lo in front of a court room packed with union members and their families. Judge Coral Shaw gave a wry smile as Aunty Liz asked God to recognise the poor workers and give the judge wisdom to make the right decision.

The court heard evidence from 15 worker witnesses and from myself on behalf of the union. My evidence took a full day with most of the cross-examination around diary notes from my meeting with the CHE managers, which had been the subject of forensic examination at the instigation of the CHE.

The court case took 11 days finishing just before Christmas 1994, with the decision not being delivered until April 2000.

The decision said that the CHE had made 10 breaches of the collective employment agreement and the other agreements with the union, had acted in a covert manner to bypass the union, and wrongfully dismissed the union members even though all those who wanted to transfer maintained their employment conditions.

Employment Court Judge Coral Shaw said the workers were entitled to damages for the way they had been treated and suggested that the union negotiate the appropriate sum with the CHE, which by this time was in the process of becoming a District Health Board.

Negotiations with the District Health Board management commenced soon after the decision and when they did not reach agreement it was proposed that a Labour Department mediator be asked to hear the arguments on behalf of the union and the DHB and make a final and binding decision.

Union claims $1 million

Mediator Walter Grills convened a session to hear from the union and the District Health Board. The room was packed with current and ex-workers who were involved in the case. The Union proposed that in addition to appropriate apologies from the DHB chief executive, each of the workers be given $5000 tax-free and the union be paid $70,000 for its legal costs. The claim on the DHB was exactly $1 million.

Union lawyer Luci Highfield asked each of the workers present to speak to their damages claim and they did so, telling tearful stories about the way their jobs and lives had been turned upside down and put under considerable stress by the underhand way the CHE had treated them.

Porirua Hospital cook Lucy Rodgers, who had worked at the hospital for almost 20 years, described the betrayal that she felt at the actions of the CHE management. She said that her secure world had been turned upside down, that her health had suffered and that she had to withdraw her daughter from a boarding school because she was uncertain about her family’s economic future.

Walter Grills released his decision, which included support for the full union claim. It was accompanied by a District Health Board agreement for official apologies to be extended by way of a letter each to the affected workers and the DHB hosting a dinner at Takapuwahia Marae for the workers and their families, where another apology would be given.

For the 300 people who turned up to Porirua’s Takapuwahia Marae for the dinner and apology it was a sweet end to an eight-year struggle for justice.

Even though the District Health Board Chief Executive Margot Mains had not been involved in any of the events of 1993/94 it was appropriate that she fronted up and personally apologised for the hurt and damage that her predecessor managers had caused for the workers and their families.

Tai Elkington, a Kenepuru Hospital orderly, was proud that the apology and dinner could be held on his marae in front of his family. He said that even though time had passed it was important for him that there was formal recognition of the hurt that had been caused.

It was the closing of a page on a very sad period in the history of the Wellington public hospital system, where the mad scientists of the neo-liberal market-led health reforms were let loose and allowed to make the lives of workers from the communities with the highest health needs the subjects of their experiments.

While the position of these workers could never be restored to what they enjoyed in the 1980s they had the satisfaction of knowing that through their solidarity and perseverance they had exposed the duplicitous conduct of their public sector employer and created greater job security for workers into the future.