Author: E tū

E tū welcomes next steps for Fair Pay Agreements

E tū members are pleased to learn today about the next steps in the Government’s plan to implement Fair Pay Agreement legislation in this term of Government.

The Government has announced more details about what Fair Pay Agreements will look like, and their proposal is in line with recommendations made by the Fair Pay Agreement Working Group, which E tū supports.

E tū member and Auckland Council cleaner Josephine Wiredu, who is employed by a contractor, supports Fair Pay Agreements to secure decent pay across the cleaning industry.

“My colleagues and I have just won the Living Wage at our workplace. This is wonderful, after so long struggling to support my family on the minimum wage,” Josephine says.

“But we now need to get the Living Wage for the whole cleaning industry. A Fair Pay Agreement will mean cleaners will have certainty that we will get decent pay wherever we work.”

Fair Pay Agreements about more than just wages. They will also make it possible to set better conditions and protections, such as improved health and safety standards. Security guard Rosey Ngakopu says that’s desperately needed in her industry.

“Health and safety is the biggest issue at the majority of sites I have worked on,” Rosey says.

“We need regular welfare checks, decent facilities, and a lot more to keep us safe at work. Security guards are often overworked because it’s hard to fill positions on sites where guards don’t feel safe.”

“A Fair Pay Agreement will secure us better health and safety, as well as improving pay, training, and other conditions that guards need.”

The announcement today was made with the support of Geneva Healthcare, where Ana Palei works as a home support worker. She says a Fair Pay Agreement would address many of the main problems for workers in her industry.

“Work has become unbearable sometimes because of the lack of training and support for new people coming in, unrealistic expectations, unreasonable rosters, and demands which do not cater for any person’s health and wellbeing – especially for the vulnerable clients,” Ana says.

“When we won Equal Pay, our wages increased, which was great, but our hours reduced. Some home support workers feel we are now worse off. My hours have been reduced a lot.

“A Fair Pay Agreement means protecting us and our rights as human beings. It will promote equality in the workforce. It will prioritise health and safety and the wellbeing of each person, so that we can return home to our loved ones happy and not too stressed out.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says today’s announcement shows that the Government is on the right track with Fair Pay Agreements.

“This will be the best change at workplaces in decades,” Annie says.

“Setting fair wages and conditions across the board will stop the race to the bottom, which sees employers competing for contracts by paying poverty wages.

“Workers deserve better pay, better job security, better health and safety, and better work. Fair Pay Agreements will become an important part of the picture.

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Annie Newman, 027 204 6340

Annie and Ana are available for media interviews in Auckland at the announcement venue.

Support for health reforms but worker voice vital

E tū, one of the largest unions for DHB-employed and contracted health workers, aged care, community, and disability support service workers, welcomes the Government’s announcement to reform and centralise health services to achieve consistency in conditions for workers and better health outcomes for Māori and Pasefika.

E tū represents more than 15,000 health workers, including hospital workers directly employed by or contracted to DHBs nationwide, such as kitchen, cleaning, and laundry staff, orderlies, and security guards.

This also includes aged care workers, home support, and disability support workers.

E tū Co-President Muriel Tunoho, who also works in primary health care, says the establishment of a Māori Health Authority is a “huge” step forward.

“It’s never been done before and will prioritise Māori healthcare and outcomes in the context of the Crown’s Te Tiriti obligations.”

E tū Director in Health Sam Jones says although many of the details around the reform are yet to come, it lays the foundation and vision for a system that promises better outcomes for workers and patients alike.

“We support the Government’s vision and agree that there’s a better way to deliver on primary and community healthcare services.

“We’ll have a publicly-funded, centralised health system that will allow for greater consistency, including in decisions around procurement and employment.

“It’s our hope that the establishment of Health New Zealand will also lead to more equitable terms and conditions for the current DHB-employed and contracted health workers across the country.”

However, Sam says that worker consultation and union involvement will be crucial to getting the changes right: “Unions and workers absolutely need to be part of the transition conversation with the voices of these essential workers at the forefront, including regarding future announcements about disability support services.”

Sam says it’s also vital that structural reform of the homecare support sector remains a top priority, after a joint-union meeting with the Minister of Health last week.

“This remains a sector in crisis, and we want to see homecare support workers, who provide care for our vulnerable in their own homes, treated in accordance with the recommendations of the Health and Disability System Review.

“They should have secure salaried contracts that provide decent pay and hours, instead of the piecemeal reality which is placing many workers under unbearable financial and mental strain.”

ENDS

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

“Crisis” in home support demands urgent Government overhaul

Thousands of care and support workers help sick, injured, and elderly New Zealanders live at home with dignity, but they are denied the pay, respect, and security of hours necessary to do the same.

Two unions represent these workers, the Public Service Association and E tū. Alongside Grey Power, they are calling for urgent government action to fix the broken sector. On the evening of Wednesday 14 April, support workers will gather at Parliament to discuss their plight with Ministers and MPs.

Despite years of promises and major reforms with various degrees of implementation, a landmark new study by AUT Business School confirms home support workers remain at the bottom of the heap in New Zealand’s public health system. They’re burned out, they don’t feel listened to, and they’re sick of it.

The current chaotic mess of competing provider companies, with fragmented funding from ACC, DHBs and the Ministry of Health, must be comprehensively overhauled and replaced with a nationally consistent funding framework that guarantees secure hours, breaks, paid travel time and safe workloads.

E tū delegate Jenny Stewart, who has been a homecare support worker for 14 years, says she feels the sector is “in crisis.”

“We are feeling very worn out and stressed a lot of the time. We feel that we don’t matter to anyone [higher up],” she says.

“We’re going out in our own vehicles, unseen – an invisible workforce. Home-based support is a vital service, but it relies on a workforce that doesn’t have proper job security.”

Despite milestones like the Equal Pay Settlement, guaranteed hours, and an in-between travel time payment, Jenny says few hours are actually guaranteed. Hours may not be not replaced if clients die or go into care, and insufficient travel reimbursement means insecure, low incomes. Many leave the sector for “more hours and more money”, she says.

Workers use their own cars, own mobile phones, and frequently work without breaks. Time allotted for client care is also being cut, Jenny says.

“We are subsidising the whole sector. The Government needs to look at the issue with eyes wide open. The demand for home-based support is going to grow and it needs to be sustainable.”

PSA delegate Donna Wealleans has worked in the industry for a decade, and she is tired of seeing improvements undermined in practice by systemic failures.

“Guaranteed hours haven’t worked out for a lot of support workers. Some of us can’t take time off, while others still can’t get the hours we need,” she says.

Donna worries high turnover and deep levels of stress among her colleagues have created a “ticking time bomb”, which will ultimately put the clients they care for at risk.

“New Zealand can’t afford this to continue when we have an ageing population and a lot more people will need support.”

“It doesn’t need to be this way, it shouldn’t be this way, but the system has not been properly organised and funded by the Government. That’s where the buck stops.”

Grey Power National President Jan Pentecost says client care is being sacrificed under the current model.

“The quality of care clients receive is dependent on the employment model for our carers, and carers cannot keep battling to survive in a sector which treats them, and their work, as expendable,” she says.

“Grey Power wants a home support system which allows people to stay healthy and safe at home, and ensures providers have sufficient numbers of fully trained staff, and relief staff, to meet their contracted case load at all times.”

ENDS

Community support workers wanted as researchers

What has been the impact of COVID19 on Community Support workers?

Are you interested in talking to other workers about their experiences?

In partnership with E tū and PSA unions, AUT Business School researchers are interested in hearing about the experiences of community support workers during the COVID-19 period, and the impact of these experiences on the wellbeing of community support workers.  We see community support workers as a core part of the essential workforce, and a part that needs their voices heard!

Our research aims to form recommendations in partnership with the workforce, to help initiate improvements in workers wellbeing, and to inform the response in any future disruptive events. 

The research is going to be conducted using a participant researcher approach, which means that community support workers, who have been trained by the research team, will be the interviewers.  This makes sure they have an understanding of what workers go through at work every day.

We are currently looking for people interested in being part of the project as participant interviewers. 

This would involve:

  • A training day, where you would be interviewed by the research team about your experiences, and trained in the interview process.
  • You would then interview three community support workers, recording the interviews on either your mobile phone or a digital recording device, at a time and place that suits you both. Each interview would last approximately one hour.
  • You would send the interview files to the research team.
  • After the research team has had the interviews transcribed and we have formed initial themes, we will have another meeting with participant researchers (possibly virtually) to get your feedback on our interpretation of what is being said by participants.
  • We will send you all draft recommendations to give feedback if you wish.

This work would be paid, with participant researchers being compensated for their time and travel in these activities. 

If you are confident in talking to others, and are wanting to be part of something that can potentially impact the wellbeing of the community support workforce, please contact us to find out more!

If you are interested in finding out more, please email Katherine Ravenswood: kravensw@aut.ac.nz

Victory for council’s contracted cleaners as Living Wage roll out begins

E tū welcomes the news that the roll out of the Living Wage to contracted cleaners in the country’s largest city has now begun.

From April 1, the first group of contacted cleaners at Auckland Council will now be paid at the current Living Wage rate of $22.10 per hour.

This follows on from the council’s commitment made in July last year to lift the pay rate of all contracted cleaners to the Living Wage rate during this term of council.

Today, Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand also announced that from September, the Living Wage rate will increase by three percent to $22.75 per hour for 2021/22.

E tū delegate Josephine Wiredu, who has worked at the council as a cleaner for the past two years, says to now receive the Living Wage is a “dream come true”.

“We’ve been waiting since 2012 for this dream to happen, and now finally, it’s here to stay. It’s going to change our lives for good.

“We do appreciate the mayor, Phil Goff’s, concern about the Living Wage. We are most grateful.”

Josephine says now she’ll be on the Living Wage, she plans to cut back her 55-hour, seven-day-a-week work schedule, so that she can finally spend Saturdays and Sundays with her children – something that wasn’t possible before.

E tū Transformational Campaigns Organiser Fala Haulangi says the beginning of the council’s Living Wage roll out is fantastic news, made possible by the dedicated campaigning of E tū members.

“I’m just so proud of our E tū cleaners and everything they have done for the Living Wage Movement since it first launched in 2012.

“They have been hard out campaigning all this time, including speaking in the media and sharing their personal stories, and have even faced backlash for doing so,” she says.

“They made sacrifices because they believed in the bigger picture – not just for themselves but for their whānau and communities.”

Fala says E tū continues to be committed to seeing the Living Wage reach all contracted workers, including groups such as security guards.

“We applaud Auckland Council for the actions they’ve taken to reduce inequality in our communities, and we hope they don’t stop there.

“E tū will continue to campaign until all our lowest-paid workers are paid at least the Living Wage.”

ENDS

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

Commendable increase to minimum wage but further rises needed

E tū welcomes the Government’s minimum wage rise and hopes its progression will continue to increase year-on-year to help lift more New Zealanders out of poverty wages.

From 1 April, the minimum wage will rise to $20 per hour – an increase of $1.10 up from $18.90.

The increase will benefit many groups of workers, including essential workers who are often the lowest paid, such as those in the cleaning, security, manufacturing, and aged care sectors.

E tū member Lavinia Kafoa says the increase will make a real difference to her pay packet, boosting it from what she earns hourly, which is just over the minimum wage.

“My rent is going up and I need to buy food for the kids – as single mother, it will really help me.”

E tū Team Leader Yvette Taylor says the rise is a commendable milestone, but the struggle is not over.

“This will make a substantial difference, but there’s still a long way to go before workers are receiving the Living Wage – the amount that workers need to truly survive and participate in society.

“We hope that the Government continues on this trajectory of increases to the minimum wage, to bring our national wage floor into line with what we know our essential workers need and deserve to live with choice and dignity.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Yvette Taylor, 027 585 6120

Pizzas, dough, and mad employers

By John Ryall, former Assistant National Secretary of E tū

The 1991 Employment Contracts Act undermined collective bargaining and diminished the role of unions. It promised employers a world in which they could do whatever they liked without being restricted by “onerous” worker rights.

The post-1991 period was tough for unions, but sometimes union organising was temporarily helped by employers who, in my opinion, were certified nutcases – full of their own importance, blaming their workforce for everything and so frenetically busy that they never stopped to examine whether their style of management was destroying their own business.

One of these employers was Romanos Pizzas, which owned a small factory in the Hutt Valley and was busy setting up another one in Auckland. The owner was Elaine Gordon, but the driving force behind the business was the general manager Alister Kirby.

From Liverpool to Alicetown

In my first introduction to Alister Kirby, after giving me a handshake that almost broke my knuckles, he said “I faced down the TGWU in Liverpool. New Zealand unions are pussies compared to them.”

He was short of stature, had a very short fuse, and was so busy growing his business that workforce issues were of secondary concern. His regular overnight road trips between Wellington and Auckland did not help his demeanor.

Romanos produced wrapped fresh pizzas and pizza bases for supermarkets and employed about 25 workers at its Hutt Valley factory. Given the attitude of its management towards unions it was quickly de-unionised following the Employment Contracts Act.

In mid-1992 I was approached by a Romanos worker Liz Campbell, who had been unjustifiably dismissed and despite not being a union member was seeking the Service Workers Union assistance with her case.

I told Liz that the union would represent her providing she could get the other workers in the factory to a meeting and they joined the union. She organised the meeting at her house, 10 workers turned up and they all joined the union.

I raised a personal grievance on behalf of Liz Campbell for unjustified dismissal. After a number of communications with the Romanos lawyers it was settled on terms acceptable to her.

By the time of the settlement the Romanos union membership had grown to about 50% of the workforce and our on-site organising committee was meeting regularly, led by our two delegates Yvonne Bartle and Liz Campbell’s sister Hilda.

Smelly pizzas

On 11 March 1993 Romanos had complaints from customers that some of its pizzas had a strong and unpleasant smell coming from them. Alister Kirby’s immediate instinct was to blame the workers and accuse them of deliberately poisoning the pizzas in order to get him to recognise their union.

Local health officials were demanding to inspect the premises so he had a strategy to comply with their demands and also punish the workers. He announced to the workers that the factory was closed until further notice because of the deliberate sabotage of the pizzas and told them they were all locked out for health and safety reasons.

I responded to the situation at the factory within 10 minutes of the call from the union delegates and met with the workers by the back door. I told them that the lockout was illegal and if they wanted to get their jobs back and be paid for the lockout they should all stand together and join the union.

The union suddenly had 100% day-shift membership and we were in a position to threaten Alister Kirby that unless he agreed to lift the lockout and pay the workers for the time locked out we would picket the factory and also seek an injunction in the courts.

By then he was caught in a dilemma of provoking a picket and a lot of publicity around smelly pizzas or lifting the lockout, sending the workers home and paying them while the health officials did their tests.

The lockout was lifted but not without a mouthful of venom from Alister Kirby about his pizza poisoning suspicions.

Disciplinary action

The next day, as everyone returned to work, one of the workers Lofi Tupu was called to a disciplinary meeting over the damage to a locker. When we arrived at the meeting we found that the disciplinary issues had increased from damage to the locker to threatening violence to another employee, changing the “best before” date on the pizza date stamp and poisoning the pizzas with a chemical.

With very little evidence to back up the other complaints and only a couple of scratches on the locker Alister Kirby accepted that only a written warning for the locker was in order.

However, the issue did not stop there. Over the next few days super sleuth Alister Kirby interviewed a number of factory workers and came to the conclusion that Lofi Tupu had poisoned the pizzas with nail polish remover.

Alister suspended Lofi and when we met with him he said the interviews had revealed that Lofi had contaminated the pizzas with nail polish remover. He alleged she painted her finger nails and used nail polish remover, said he knew she was the culprit and out of the blue offered her $1500 if she resigned her employment.

When she turned down his offer he read out an already-prepared letter dismissing her for damaging a locker, threatening another employee with violence and changing the “best before” date on the pizza date stamp. There was no mention of the pizza contamination or the nail polish remover.

Collective agreement time

If this was meant to be a signal to the other union members that he was the boss and you should do as you are told, then it did not work.

While the union pursued a personal grievance for Lofi, the other members demanded that the union negotiate a collective employment contract with Romanos to strengthen their rights in the face of an unpredictable employer.

The response from Alister Kirby to the news of a collective agreement was an “over my dead body” verbal barrage down the phone.

I followed this up with a meeting in his office accompanied by the workplace delegates, where I presented him with a draft collective contract. Without looking at it he threw it into the rubbish bin. I told him that it was unlawful not to consider the negotiation of a collective agreement. He reached over to the rubbish bin, took out the draft collective agreement and put it in the bottom drawer of his desk with a comment “I am now considering it.”

He did though agree to negotiate individual contracts with each union member.

The negotiations were a farce as every worker was offered a 25 cents an hour pay increase with no other improvements to their employment terms. Even though the first few members made excuses about not accepting the identical offer on the spot, it soon became obvious to the workplace delegates that members wanted to grab the pay increase and to keep on organising later around a collective contract.

Stronger stance

Twelve months later when it was time to carry out the negotiations again, the members decided to take on a stronger stance.

We decided that we would get the Romanos offer for each member and not accept any of the offers until all of the members could talk about what had been offered together. It was a form of collective negotiation of individual contracts.

I arranged a date for the negotiations and asked Service Workers Union organisers Lee Tan and Nanai Muaau to be available for those members who wished to speak or have any offers interpreted into their own language, although Alister insisted that he would only allow myself and one worker at a time in his office for the negotiations.

I meet with Alister Kirby with the first member while Lee Tan waited downstairs with the other members. The first worker was offered 25 cents an hour pay increase with no changes to other conditions. I thanked Alister and said the member wanted to think about the offer some more.

The second member came in and she was offered 40 cents an hour because of what Alister said was her “sterling work”. After a brief adjournment I thanked Alister for the offer and said that this member wanted to talk to her partner about the offer.

When the third member came through the door Alister adopted a different tone. He said that this member was being offered 40 cents an hour on condition that he signed his individual employment contract before he left the room.

When we refused this demand, Alister stood up from behind his desk, told us to get out and then pushed past us and some other members waiting on the stairs as he headed to the factory floor. Once inside the factory he shouted “Its stopwork time. Stopwork meeting. Get out!” running around the factory floor pushing members towards the door and locking it behind him.

Lockout or strike?

We had a meeting with the members outside of the factory and all decided to return first thing the next morning for a picket.

When we returned the next morning there was a big sign on the factory door telling everyone that no work would be offered until the strike was over and each worker give a guarantee that it would not be repeated. If a worker wanted to return to work they needed to leave a letter in the office accepting these two demands and the company would then consider each letter and decide whether the worker would be welcomed back or not.

After a quick discussion over the definition of “strike” and “lockout” the members quickly came to the conclusion that the boss pushing you out the door and locking it was to any casual observer a fairly good example of a lockout.

The picket started that day and continued through until our day in the Employment Court on 15 September 1994. There was a good turnout of picketers each day and because an International Labour Organisation delegation was in Wellington that week investigating a complaint about the Employment Contracts Act, the action drew a lot of attention.

Representatives from other unions and from the NZ Council of Trade Unions joined the picket line as did Labour Employment Relations Spokesperson Steve Maharey and Alliance Party Leader Jim Anderton.

On 15 September 1994 the Employment Court granted the union an interim injunction against the Romanos lockout and the day later the union members marched back into the factory without any sign of Alister Kirby.

Nothing changes

That does not mean that there was any change in Alister Kirby’s position about collective bargaining and collective agreements.

While there were attempts by the union to gain a collective agreement they were continually frustrated by the actions of Romanos.

In August 1995 Romanos received another blow when the Employment Court decided that Lofi Tupu was unjustifiably dismissed and was awarded just over $10,000 in compensation.

It was the last straw for Alister Kirby. He had a heart attack just before the decision was released and the threat to his mortality opened the door to the union finally completing a collective agreement, with a 3% wage increase, an extra week’s annual leave and a set of standard conditions including accepted union rights.

However, this was a short pyrrhic victory as many of the original Romanos union activists soon left and the factory relocated to Auckland. Within a year of the move the Romanos business in Auckland closed as well and it was rumoured that Alister Kirby had experienced a second fatal heart attack.

Union organising at Romanos Pizzas only lasted about three years, but it was a sentinel event in our organising under the Employment Contracts Act. With the large effort put in by the union in trying to organise a small site, the question was asked about why we started in the first place.

Although the Romanos dispute did not gain our members everything that they wanted, it showed everyone, including other employers, that despite the Employment Contracts Act workers would still fight for their rights and there were no benefits in taking on a united workforce if doing so ended up destroying your business.

Whakatāne Mill confirms closure but opportunities remain

The closure of Whakatāne Mill has been confirmed, with over 150 skilled operational workers being made redundant after 85 years of operations.

FIRST Union and E tū say that while vital the impact on the local community will be significant, there is still a chance for a new buyer to repurpose the existing plant and secure crucial infrastructure in New Zealand’s forestry supply chain.

“There are many options for refitting the existing assets to continue manufacturing pulp and paper products,” said Jared Abbott, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Finance.

“We are inviting potential buyers to ask for our assistance to get the support needed to make the most of the existing skills and infrastructure available.

“There are opportunities in the industry and there is an important role for Government to play in securing the wood supply chain and increasing our manufacturing capacity.”

E tū spokesperson Raymond Wheeler says the announcement of the closure is “devastating” for local industry, including businesses such as scaffolding and engineering.

“We’ve just had the economic impact of the Whakaari (White Island) eruption and COVID-19 on Whakatāne’s tourism industry to contend with, and now the region has been dealt this blow. It’s an enormous hit to the regions and to the eastern Bay of Plenty.”

Raymond says job opportunities in the area are limited, and emphasises the urgency around the Government’s work on an Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector, if local manufacturing is to survive.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Jared Abbott, 021 617 131

Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Support grows for workers to be paid 100% through COVID crisis

E tū, the biggest private sector union in Aotearoa New Zealand, says that workers should not lose out on pay when they are required to self-isolate, or otherwise miss work, because of COVID-19.

E tū has been calling for workers’ wages to lead the COVID-19 recovery, with no workers left out of pocket, throughout the pandemic. In a survey sent to all E tū members this week, 94% of respondents agreed that workers should be paid 100% for any time off due to COVID-19 testing, isolation, or Alert Level changes.

The survey also found that only 22% of respondents who had to miss work due to COVID-19 had been properly paid in full, with most others either losing pay or having to use their leave.

Other organisations are joining the call for 100%, even including the National Party, who are now calling for the Government to directly pay workers 100% of their wages when they have to self-isolate.

An E tū member, who prefers to remain anonymous, says she is still waiting to find out if she’ll be paid for a seven-day standdown period during the last lockdown when she was ill and awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

“This could have been dealt with two weeks ago when I first emailed my employer – I want to know if I’m covered under the Government’s COVID-19 support schemes or our collective agreement.”

She says she was also asked to return to work after she returned a negative COVID-19 test result, even though she still wasn’t well.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says workers need to feel confident that they will not be penalised financially should they need to stay home to keep themselves and others safe from the virus.

“The most important thing New Zealanders can do to support one another during this time is to ensure that they take all measures possible to protect themselves and others – including taking time off work to self-isolate if that’s required.

“There is a range of financial support available to both businesses and workers, but the Government needs to make sure full-time workers aren’t shouldering the financial burden of not being able to go to work.

“That means workers getting 100% of what they would usually be paid, and not having to use any of their leave.”

Workplaces also need to make sure employees know what assistance they are eligible to receive, she says.

Annie says: “We would urge the Government to go the extra mile here so those who cannot work due to COVID-19 aren’t left out of pocket and can still afford to pay their bills on the support payments available.

“Workers’ wages need to be at the forefront of our recovery, not only in Rebuilding Better after the pandemic, but as we join together in doing our best to keep our fellow Kiwis safe.”

ENDS

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