Author: E tū

Sick leave extension needed now

E tū is calling on the Government to bring forward their plans to double the minimum sick leave entitlement, after yesterday’s announcement that the change will likely be in place in mid-2021.

E tū members have been campaigning to increase the minimum leave from five to 10 days, including by supporting the political parties that campaigned on the change in the general election.

Wellington cleaner Malia Motusaga is thrilled that the Government has confirmed their plan to increase minimum sick leave.

“The extra five days will benefit me and my kids – now I know that if I get sick I can stay home, and if any of my kids or my husband are sick I can look after them, too. I feel really good about it,” Malia says.

“I always run out of sick leave. I use it all up when the kids get sick, so there’s nothing there for me. When I go off sick, I go on leave without pay. I will really appreciate those extra five days.

“I just want to say thank you to the Government – It means a lot to us workers, especially us that have families and young kids.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that while it is a great development, the Government should pass the law under urgency.

“This isn’t a complicated piece of legislation, or a new program, it’s mostly a case of changing the number ‘five’ to the number ‘10’ in legislation,” Annie says.

“We know the golden rule for a successful COVID-19 recovery: ‘Go hard and go early.’ This needs to extend to our most vulnerable workers now more than ever.

“Not giving workers enough time to look after themselves when they have any sickness, especially if they have COVID-19 symptoms, is a recipe for disaster. The Government have promised to do something great, but they must not do it too late.”

Annie says that sick leave legislation needs to be strengthened in other ways as well.

“Workers should be able to accumulate their leave for longer than the current statutory minimum of 20 days. E tū is calling for this to be extended to 25 days as a start.

“Sick leave also needs to be available to all workers immediately, not just after six months. Workers need to be able to take time off when they are sick no matter how long they have been with a particular employer.

“Without changing the eligibility, workers who begin their job after these changes become law wouldn’t get their ten days sick leave until 2022. Fixing the problem is simply more urgent than that.”

ENDS

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

Remembering the Air New Zealand Erebus crew and passengers with memorial service

E tū, the union for aviation workers, invites all Kiwis to join in the remembrance of the crew and passengers in Air New Zealand’s Erebus disaster by observing one-minute’s silence on Saturday.

On 28 November, as there is every year, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony and one-minute silence observed at 1.49pm to remember the crew of Air New Zealand TE901 who died 41 years ago on the slopes of Mt Erebus in Antarctica.

The one-minute silence marks the moment of impact, which occurred at 12.49pm NZST (1.49pm NZ Daylight Saving Time). Twenty crew members and 237 passengers lost their lives in the tragedy.

E tū Organiser Dayna Townsend says the day marks an event that is forever etched into the memory of New Zealanders.

“Today marks a day when our national airline, the nation, and the families of those aboard, suffered a great tragedy.

“The crew memorial gardens near Auckland Airport in Māngere are a focal point for remembrance, and the event is particularly poignant this year, as we consider the upheaval and thousands of job losses for aviation workers as a result of the pandemic.”

On the same day, E tū also remembers the five Kiwi aviation workers who died in 2008, when their Air New Zealand A320 crashed off the coast of Perpignan, France.

Labour MP Marja Lubeck, a former flight attendant, union president, and E tū Head of Aviation, will be attending on behalf of the Government.

Where: Auckland Airport Crew Memorial, Tom Pearce Drive, Māngere

Time: 1.30pm

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Dayna Townsend, 027 590 0070

NZ Government needs to mandate staffing ratios like Australian states

E tū is calling on the New Zealand Government to follow the example of Victoria’s Labour Government and recognise the need for minimum staff-to-resident ratios in private aged care homes.

On Tuesday, the Victorian Government announced it would provide up to $40 million to introduce mandatory staffing levels in the private sector, if the Australian Government as the primary regulator and funder, agreed to assist.

Both Victoria and Queensland mandate staffing numbers in public aged care facilities.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, staff-to-resident ratios are not mandatory in any aged care home. Current suggested staffing guidelines, drawn up in 2005, are voluntary and now woefully out of date.

E tū member and aged care worker, Kiran, says aged care workers and residents face the effects of short staffing on a “daily basis”.

“We are rushing to do the cares, finish their showers already. It’s not fair on the residents or the staff – we feel guilty at the end of the day, like we didn’t do our best because we didn’t have time.”

Not having enough staff means increased risk of falls and like, which staff are then often blamed for, she says.

“The Government doesn’t really know what’s happening inside rest homes – loopholes can be hidden during audits. They need to implement staffing standards urgently.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says the implementation of safe staffing ratios in New Zealand rest homes is crucial to ensuring the wellbeing and safety of residents and workers.

“COVID-19 has cast a spotlight on the many and very real dangers to residents when there are insufficient numbers of staff.

“This was highlighted with deadly results in Victoria, when comparing the performance of mandated public homes, which had no deaths, versus privately-owned facilities, which saw more than 600 COVID-related deaths,” she says.

“In Aotearoa New Zealand, we cannot finish another term of government without increasing staffing numbers and making them mandatory.”

Kirsty says it’s all part of making sure that aged care homes in Aotearoa New Zealand rebuild better in the wake of the pandemic, by ensuring decent lives with dignity for workers and the residents they care for.

“There’s no reason our country can’t lead the way in terms of the quality of care we provide for our senior New Zealanders. However, that means listening to our aged care workers and giving them the support they need to provide the care residents deserve.”

ENDS

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

Executive share offers will further damage airline’s recovery, union says

Aviation union members are “incensed” after hearing the news that a multi-million-dollar share offer has been given to Air New Zealand’s CEO, including offers to the executive team.

On Friday, the New Zealand stock exchange showed CEO Greg Foran issued with rights to around $2.03 million worth of shares.

Six other members of the executive team were also issued rights of a lower value, including former executive Cam Wallace.

With around 4000 of the airline’s workers having already lost their jobs and hundreds of 787 crew set to be made redundant before Christmas, workers have described the airline’s actions as “tone-deaf”.

“I’ve never seen crew so upset as they were over the weekend. It’s just another kick while they’re already down as crew numbers are being decimated,” says one worker.

“This flies in the face of Air New Zealand’s internal programme around rebuilding, which is about supporting from within and looking after staff in order to look after the customer. This is not looking after staff.”

Some crew have found themselves relying on benefits as their incomes have dropped, the worker says.

Another airport worker who prefers to remain anonymous says, “People are losing their jobs. This is completely insensitive.”

E tū Head of Aviation Savage says union members are foregoing pay increases and not collecting contractual performance bonuses to help the airline save money.

“For the board and the executives to take the share options at this time will do nothing to rebuild the airline’s performance. Workers are incensed – it’s rubbing salt into an already painful wound,” he says.

“The announcement will further reinforce the view of union members that the company’s strategy needs a complete overhaul.”

Savage says the union will be taking up the issue of the share offers with Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

“Air New Zealand has drawn down on their government loan and it seems this public money is now being spent on lining the pockets of the senior management.

“The distribution of pay to staff needs to be fair, and the airline needs to retain and create decent jobs. Our national carrier should be something all Kiwis can be proud of, starting with looking after all its employees.”

For more information and comment:
Savage, 027 590 0074

A win for workers with new Workplace Relations Minister

E tū congratulates Labour’s Michael Wood on his appointment as Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety in the new Labour Government.

During his campaign, he emphasised the importance of workers’ rights, including the role Fair Pay Agreements would play in ensuring decent work and wages.

Michael began working in the union movement 18 years ago, has held roles as an organiser and negotiator, and is currently an E tū member.

An Assistant National Secretary at E tū, Annie Newman, says Michael has continually put workers at the very heart of his political life, by emphasising the need for equality in the workplace.

“Michael truly believes that all workers deserve a fair share of the economic cake and wants them to have a voice in decision-making that affects them.

“He has worked in Parliament for many years and is a vocal supporter of working people, including low-paid and migrant workers, as well as those in the service sector.”

Annie says Michael’s appointment is a very positive step forward for workers and union members.

“Michael has an extensive background in the union movement, starting from the ground up – first as a union organiser – that will serve him well in his new role as Workplace Relations Minister.”

“We are looking forward to see progress on some of the most pressing issues, such as Fair Pay Agreements, where we will work closely with the Minister to ensure effective and sustained legislative change in this area.”

ENDS

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

Member organisers at the heart of an organising union

By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū

Not long after the formation of E tū in 2015, I was asked by an ex-EPMU staff member about the meaning of the term “member organiser”, which he had heard me talk about.

I told him that a member organiser was a union member who had volunteered to carry out union organising work on worksites other than his or her own site.

The conversation was full of questions about how members got to volunteer, would they be paid for their time, did they have the skills to organise and would this undermine the work that was clearly contained in the role of a full-time salaried union organiser.

The conversation forced me to consider that perhaps my history in the Service and Food Workers Union in the 25 years since the Employment Contracts Act had not been a shared experience of others in the New Zealand labour movement.

My experience

My entrance into the union movement was as a delegate-activist and then plant union convenor in the car assembly industry in the Hutt Valley.

The car industry was big and was full of activists who taught me the skills of collective organising, running meetings, disputes and strikes, and winning good working conditions while much of the time battling the interference from the full-time officials in my own union.

This experience carried over to my employment in the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union in the 1980s, which was being transformed (as it was in Auckland) by a group of new full-time organisers who had learnt their skills in the workplace, in community struggles or in feminist organisations.

Small night quarterly union meetings were replaced with large paid union stop-work meetings, the number of workplace delegates increased massively, union education took off and the formation of activist groups for Maori, Pasifika and Women members commenced.

All this activity led to major gains for union members and more confidence amongst delegates and members to confront their own employer and contact other delegates and members in other workplaces to spread the gains that they had made.

This came to a grinding halt in 1991, although the storm clouds had been gathering for about three years before then.

The ECA Shock

The National Government’s 1991 Employment Contracts Act was the most radical piece of industrial legislation ever introduced in New Zealand. Its professed aim was “to promote an efficient labour market” but its real goals, according to most commentators at the time, was to force wages down and to break the unions.

Some commentators at the time predicted that the Act would quickly increase segmentation between the primary and secondary labour markets, with those in the secondary labour markets (clerical, hospitality, service-type jobs) left without rights and deteriorating employment conditions, while those in the primary labour market working in the state sector or in larger worksites hardly noticing any change.

This is what largely happened although the changes brought about by the Employment Contracts Act were more far-reaching than had been envisaged.

Union density declined from 41.5% in May 1991 to 19.9% in December 1996, the Clerical Workers Union and the Communication and Energy Workers Unions both collapsed and other unions amalgamated quickly to stave off their own demise.

The day before the Employment Contracts Act was passed, most of the unions that made up the Service Workers Federation amalgamated into a new Service Workers Union of Aotearoa (most of the regional Hotel and Hospital Workers Unions, Cleaners and Caretakers Unions, Musicians Unions, the Northern Dental Assistants Union and the Theatrical Workers Union). They were joined reasonably quickly by the Northland and Southland Clerical Workers Unions and the Community Services Union.

In May 1991, the estimated number of actual financial members of the new Service Workers Union of Aotearoa was 69,000 or 50,000 FTE, but by December 1992 it had dropped by 50% down to 25,000 FTE.

In the year ending January 1993, a serious financial deficit was sustained by the Service Workers Union and by March 1993 the union was struggling with no cash reserves and having to lay off more than 30% of the union’s staff, which included the National Secretary and two other organisers, who luckily won parliamentary seats and saved the union redundancy compensation payments.

Responding to the crisis

Change often does not happen without a crisis occurring. In 1993, all of the elements were present for change to occur in the Service Workers Union.

Unions were trying all sorts of strategies to weather the effects of the Employment Contracts Act from partnership with employers, to further amalgamations and to beefing up member benefits systems.

The Service Workers Union, which had flattened its operational structure with its redundancy programme in 1993, decided to organise its way out of the crisis.

It had looked at the experience of organising in de-regulated labour markets and decided to formally adopt what was called “the organising model”.

While it came with a new title, the organising model was not new to many people in the Service Workers Union, especially those who came from community or wider movement-based organising backgrounds.

However, it did involve a conscious resolve to change the way that the union operated from a dependence on 50 full-time organisers to do all the work, to liberating the resources contained within the union’s 25,000-plus members to share the organising challenge.

At that time, the union was totally swamped in the re-negotiation of hundreds of site-based collective agreements, trying to maintain regular worksite visiting to recruit membership and relying on paid union staff to resolve member grievances through legal or formal processes. The more success organisers had in solving existing member grievances, the more members bombarded them to solve even more individual issues. Meanwhile, the union membership was declining and the number of full-time staff doing the work was becoming smaller.

The organising model tried to break this cycle by taking the reliance off paid staff and emphasising a union based on active members who were encouraged and supported to take responsibility for solving their own and the collective’s problems and to extend union membership through organising both on and off their worksites.

The organising model was seen by some unionists as a narrow solution to make unions financially viable (more unpaid organisers), but essentially it was really about building real membership and ownership of the union as a vehicle, not just for self-interested ends, but for social justice and greater power for the whole of the working class.

Although a move to a more organising union focus did meet some resistance internally from union staff, the Service Workers Union, from 1996 under the leadership of new National Secretary Darien Fenton, vigorously pursued a change process that included building a stronger foundation of union member leadership, taking the debate about organising and union change to the membership, freeing up resources for new organising and growth and campaigning across workplaces and in the community for better outcomes for working families.

“Taking the debate to members” involved having a meeting in every workplace and giving members a “no bullshit” presentation on the crisis faced by our union and the need for all members to step up in a supported way and take responsibility for organising.

Many people thought this was nuts as members would say “this union is going under – let’s join another union that can offer better services”, but that was not the member response. Existing delegates were prepared to take on more if they were trained, members had children and grandchildren being exploited in non-union workplaces and everyone wanted to see them have the good working conditions that their parents and grandparents had achieved through the union.

Member organiser strategy

One of the strategies that came out of taking the debate to the SWU (Service and Food Workers Union from 1997) membership was to set up a volunteer organiser programme that identified member volunteers who agreed to volunteer their time to help organise non-union workplaces or networks. The volunteers would undergo an intensive education process, would be reimbursed their travel and phone expenses, and would be supported by a paid organiser on an identified project.

Current E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman said the member organiser programme was about increasing the union’s depth of member leaders capable of building sustainable workplace organisation. However, she noted that there was also another benefit for the union:

“Identifying member leaders to step up in this way sharpened the focus on organisers in terms of skills, responsibilities and levels of commitment required. It also required a wider skill set for the organiser because it was their job to develop the leader.”

Darien Fenton, since her time as the SWU Education and Organising Director, had pointed out the necessity of changing the organiser’s role from being “the leader” to “the coach”. Working with volunteers on a structured organising programme put this role change into sharp relief.

Jody Anderson, currently an E tū organising team leader, was involved in one of the first volunteer organiser programmes in the late 1990s. She was a workplace delegate in aged care and was invited by her organiser to participate, along with 5 other members, in the programme.

She said that the programme involved a lot of education about the crisis in the union movement and how we all came from union islands that were going to be submerged in the non-union sea unless we all did something about it.

“We had a deep understanding about needing to organise the unorganised if our movement was to survive,” said Jody.

Jody’s project was not just to recruit new members, but more importantly was to identify other potential union activists in non-union workplaces who could carry out the workplace recruitment and organising.

Even though she was still employed in her aged care job during and after the organising project, the experience led to further organising opportunities and built her confidence to eventually apply for a full-time organiser’s job.

“I would never have applied for an organiser’s job had it not been for the member organiser programme. I was far more at home within the community support sector and, as a working-class woman, saw union officials as being at a higher level than me.”

Not all volunteer member organisers became paid union organisers, although some did, both for the SFWU, other unions or community organisations. However, they did provide a cohort of industry member leaders, executive members and knowledgeable activists that built the wider union campaigns.

Annie Newman reflects that historically, the best member leaders were developed by young energetic campaign-type organisers “because they were focused on developing the workers through education and activism and not just treating them as an appendage to business-as-usual.”

She warned though that the programme exposed workplace leaders to the life of organisers, which could be highly politicising, if not personally disruptive, for some. 

She recalled on at least two occasions a member leader leaving a job they had been employed in for many years because their involvement in the union had raised their hopes and ambitions for a different kind of life that did not eventuate. 

However, member organisers such as aged care worker Marianne Bishop said because she and others were volunteers and remained connected to their jobs during and after their organising project, they were more grounded than full-time union employees.

Member organiser programmes were conducted in aged care, in cleaning and in disability support with some member organisers working inside the union’s Māori, Pasifika and Women’s structures to build their capability. In 2001, the union aimed to develop 50 member organisers.

Member organisers were given status inside the union, being asked to stand up and present at conferences, highlighted in union magazines and being role models of organising commitment.

In 2008, the National Government depleted the Employment Related Education Fund, which the SFWU had been using to employ full-time union educators. This encouraged the union to extend the member organiser model to a new group called member educators. They worked together in groups to learn the skills of adult education and how to carry out one-to-one and group education modules for other members.

Some of these member educators, such as Sharryn Barton and Mele Peaua, are still active in E tū and are still using the skills they gained from this experience. Sharryn, for instance, used these skills when she was supporting meatworkers on the picket line outside the Horotiu AFFCO Plant during their 2015 lockout.

Reflections

Member organiser/educator programmes and the development of member leaders requires ongoing commitment from union leadership and the continual re-invigoration of an internal union organising culture.

It is easy once a financial crisis abates to take the foot off the pedal and go back to funding more and more full-time organisers in lieu of investment in member leaders.

While many unions talk about organising, the proof that organising is occurring is the presence in the union of thousands of passionate activists.

We need activists at every level of the union from its national executive and industry councils, in Maori, Pasifika, Women and Youth Networks, and in workplace committees.

These activists need to be seen at every union event, whether it is the union conference or a presentation to a local council or parliamentary select committee.

If they are not there, then you are not organising, and your union will struggle to survive.

In this sense member organisers have remained a small, although precious, contributor to modern New Zealand organising unionism.

This article was originally published in the NZ Labour History Project September 2020 Bulletin.

Heritage bargaining update: The Heritage Way? Good news, bad news, and work to do!

In early October, union delegates from E tū and NZNO met with Heritage management to continue the push for a fair deal for all Heritage workers.

Over a year ago, we told Heritage that we wanted a union agreement that protects all staff in all Heritage facilities, and we’ve been working on that ever since.

Last week was a mix of good news and bad news.  Recently Heritage received a 3% funding increase from the DHBs. 

  • The good news is that Heritage is offering pay increase of 3% to all household staff and further pay rises to nurses.
  • The bad news is that care staff were not included. We continue to push for carer to move faster up the pay scales.
  • The good news is that Heritage has offered to include the sites that used to have a collective, including the BUPA and Oceania sites.
  • The bad news is that most other sites are shut out.

Your bargaining team have told Heritage that their proposal is not fair.

E tū and NZNO are recommending to members that we accept the pay rise for household staff, RNs, and ENs, and that we continue to push for a fair deal for all Heritage staff.

If you want to add you voice to the call for a fair deal at Heritage you can help by making sure everyone at your work is union member!

For more information, please call E tū Support on 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466).

Thanks!

Aged care workers highlight need for urgent reform with international action day

On International Day of the Older Person, New Zealand aged care workers are adding their voices to the global call to create a “shield against COVID-19” with better conditions for workers and residents in aged care homes around the world.

E tū members are participating in the Global Nursing Homes Day of Action on 1 October, coordinated by UNI Global Union, representing around 20 million workers in unions worldwide.

The day of action calls for increased staffing, safer workplaces, and increased union representation.

Aged care worker and E tū delegate Gill Butcher says COVID-19 has simply been a catalyst to “shine a light” on issues in aged care that desperately need attention.

“Already before COVID-19, we were on the brink of catastrophe with short staffing levels. In one incident, we had a situation where there was a ratio of one caregiver to 22 residents,” she says.

“Ask yourself how a single caregiver, in a seven-and-a-half-hour shift could look after 22 people, which includes toileting and feeding, let alone have a chat and a cup of tea.”

Gill says now more than ever, worker and union voices need to be part of the conversation to improve conditions, particularly as COVID-19 has exacerbated existing issues, such as short staffing.

“At my care home, we didn’t have anyone walk in with COVID-19 but that was just a matter of luck, not due to good management or adequate staffing. Many facilities could have ended up like Rosewood.”

An E tū director, Kirsty McCully, says listening to workers and increasing the ratio of carers to residents, as well as making those guidelines mandatory, is a first step to improving the situation.

“We know from research, both in New Zealand and internationally, that short staffing issues, poor pay and lack of training all contribute to worse outcomes for residents and workers.

“It’s absolutely imperative that we acknowledge and respect the vital role that aged care workers – our essential workers – play in our families and communities.

“One way we can show that respect is by providing the proper conditions and, most importantly in New Zealand, mandatory safe staffing rules, which would ensure that our vulnerable loved ones are kept safe and are able to maintain a life of dignity.

“On this global day of action, we stand with aged care workers worldwide who have braved the frontlines of COVID-19, we celebrate workers’ efforts to keep residents safe, and we encourage all aged care workers to join together in their unions so we can continue to bring improvements to the sector.”

ENDS

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

Workers celebrate Labour’s new workplace policies

The Labour Party’s Workplace Relations and Safety policy release today will see workers across the country being much better off.

Policies announced include doubling minimum sick leave entitlements, continued minimum wage increases, implementing Fair Pay Agreements, and job protection for security guards.

Mareta Sinoti, a cleaner at the National Library, says that the extra sick leave is desperately needed, “especially in winter as people always get sick”.

“I work in a public area where we are careful about keeping people safe, especially with COVID-19 we are always cleaning and sanitising workplaces as part of our job. 

“It will be better for everyone when Labour give workers more sick leave so that we can look after our health and our families properly.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that the next government needs to prioritise Fair Pay Agreements, in the first 100 days, as a part of our economic recovery.

“Workers’ wages must lead the COVID-19 recovery. Labour’s policy goes some way towards ensuring that we stop the ‘race to the bottom’ for some of our most vulnerable workers.

“Fair Pay Agreements are a big part of that picture. We are one of the few countries in the OECD without a framework for sector-wide bargaining, and we need to catch up.

“The experience of COVID-19 has reminded us that workers need to be properly engaged in decision making at every level. That’s what Fair Pay Agreements are all about.”

ENDS

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