Category: COVID-19

Budget 2020 supports low-income working families

E tū is commending the Government for the support of low-income households and a just transition for workers in precarious employment in Budget 2020: Rebuilding Together.

The Budget, which sees the Government spending $50bn across our economy, has a strong focus on both jobs and workers.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that there is a lot for workers to celebrate.

“To start with, the extension of the wage subsidy scheme is critical for workers who are employed by businesses that are struggling to make it through this crisis,” Annie says.

“The wage subsidy scheme worked very well to keep money in people’s pockets and keep workers connected to their employers. Continuing on from that success is a no-brainer.

“The emphasis on creating new and decent jobs that are socially and environmentally sustainable is an important step towards a just transition for workers who are in precarious employment, such as our E tū members in aviation.

“Large numbers of workers will need to rapidly retrain, and E tū supports vocational education being funded for a wide range of jobs, from construction to community care.

“Low paid workers have always depended on social services and support because their wages are insufficient for them to live a decent life. The big investment in food in schools and housing are critical pieces of the puzzle.”

E tū member and Auckland Council cleaner, Meleane Moala, says the new social support will help her family.

“I only earn $1200 a fortnight, but my rent is $530 per week. If I am given the opportunity to live in a state house, it will help with home security and I’ll be able to save money,” Meleane says.

“I have a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 3-year-old, so the school lunch programme is really good news. It will be very helpful my family and other families that can’t always afford healthy lunches for our kids.”

However, Annie says that more needs to be done for our most vulnerable.

“A striking omission from the Budget is the much-need boost to benefit levels.

“The basic benefit is totally inadequate for people to survive on. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommended increasing the main benefit level by up to 47% – this is still urgent.

“Further, benefits need to be individualised so that when people lose their jobs, they get the support they need regardless of their family circumstances. Otherwise you see household losing a full income with very little extra support.”

ENDS

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

Tempers rise at Temperzone

E tū members at Temperzone say they have been let down by their employer, citing a lack of good faith and basic respect.

Temperzone, a company that manufactures and distributes air conditioning and ventilation systems in Auckland, had forced many workers to use up all of their leave and take leave in advance.

The company also chose not to apply for the wage subsidy, meaning that workers weren’t necessarily given the 80% of their normal earnings while off work.

E tū member Simi Lo says the company’s behaviour is taking a huge toll on him and his family.

“The uncertainty, the lack of good faith, and the apparent lack of concern for us workers have been a huge stress on our family, causing a lot of heartache and sleepless nights,” Simi says.

“Advanced leave has been my only option – I had a family holiday over Christmas, so I either had to take advance leave or have no income at all. How would I have been able to pay the bills and feed my family?”

Many other Temperzone workers are in a similar situation, which will create many issues in the near future, Simi says.

“Some people don’t have enough annual leave or sick leave throughout the year, it’s only April and they’re expecting us to use up all our leave, but what happens if we have important family matters that we need to attend some times throughout the year? How are we going to apply for a day off if we run out of leave by then, and what happen if we get sick? Does that mean we still come to work if we’re sick?”

Pena Tamamasui, head site delegate at Temperzone, says that workers aren’t feeling respected.

“Union members at Temperzone feel betrayed,” Pena says.

“These are smart, skilled workers who have been loyal to their company and have reached out to partner with the company to get through this. This crisis is not the time for top-down decision making. Our members simply want transparency and fair consultation, keeping our people at the heart of any response.” 

E tū organiser Jen Natoli says that the company’s decision to leave workers out in the cold is a worrying sign, especially with possible redundancies on the cards.

“Temperzone have put out a proposal to axe up to 65 jobs at the site, which is already stressful enough for our members,” Jen says.

E tū members reported late Monday they had received letters with their selection criteria score but at the time of this release neither E tū nor FIRST unions had heard officially from the company.

“Now is the time for us as a country to pull together so that NZ owned and operated manufacturing companies scale up and become the backbone of a decent recovery.  Now is the time to rebuild better, and that means keeping Kiwi businesses alive. Cutting jobs now will do the opposite.  We call on the company to work through alternatives with us and the government to support our crucial manufacturing sector.

“This company manufactures products that help make homes healthy in a time when we have a housing shortage. There is a huge place for manufacturers like Temperzone as we rebuild, not only for our homes but also for providing decent jobs for our communities at a time when our economy needs to restart.”

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Jen Natoli, 027 591 0041

Aged care review “a slap in the face” for excluded workers

E tū members in aged care are appalled to learn that the Ministry of Health are charging on with a review into COVID-19 affected aged care facilities without participation from workers, their unions, or people who live in the residential aged care facilities and their families.

The review, quietly announced in a media release on Thursday, will be conducted by public health officials and employer representatives, but no worker, union, or client representatives are on the panel.

Aroha Carney, an aged care worker in Southland, says that workers have already proven to be the important voices in this discussion.

“During the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown, PPE was being rationed in my facility very strictly, purely due to low supply. It was a shock to my colleagues and me as many of us felt we were at such high risk – and putting our families at risk as well,” Aroha says.

“It wasn’t until our union fought for our right to have free an unpoliced access to PPE that we started getting the changes that we need. It shows how important union members are in decision making.

Aroha and her colleagues think that many of the current practices around isolation continue to be sub-standard.

“When new residents arrive, while they may be isolated, the staff that care for them are still going between different residents and so that contact continues. We’ve also encountered problems with new and returning residents wandering around constantly.

These residents haven’t been effectively isolated at all, ultimately putting all other residents and staff at a much higher, unnecessary risk.

“The review needs workers like us properly involved so we can explain these experiences and work with others on the solutions. We’re the experts.”

E tū Director Sam Jones says that E tū has been calling for a proper review since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our members have been blowing the whistle on issues like PPE, staffing levels, and isolation practices throughout the pandemic. We’ve been calling for a proper review the whole time. With such limited scope and representation, this review is far from adequate,” Sam says.

“To keep workers, unions, and residents out of such an important review feels like a slap in the face.”

Sam says that the review will barely scratch the surface.

“This is basically just another form of self-regulation which has proven to not work across industries which will only produce what the providers and DHB’s allow it to. Having an independent resident and worker voice is the only thing that will lead to proper preventative measures to stop further clusters developing in residential aged care ensuring all workers and residents are protected. This is not the time for complacency.”

Sam says that E tū is asking the Ministry for an urgent “please explain” and to make sure there is adequate participation in the review.

“It’s not too late for them to fix this, both to improve the current review and to make sure workers voices are properly heard in any reviews and audits going forward.”

Sam says the issue highlights the importance of E tū’s recently launched Rebuild Better campaign, which outlines a way forward for keeping workers at the heart of the recovery.

“Two of the five key principles in our Rebuild Better campaign are prioritising community health and wellbeing, and workers involved in all decisions. Full worker, union, and client participation in a much wider review is the necessary approach.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Sam Jones, 027 544 8563
Kirsty McCully, 027 204 6354

Our opportunity to Rebuild Better

Today E tū is launching the Rebuild Better campaign, in response to the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.

E tū National Secretary Bill Newson says it’s all about having workers at the heart of our recovery.

“The COVID-19 crisis has affected every worker in New Zealand. Our country has been lucky in some respects, but big changes lie ahead and E tū is determined we will rebuild better,” Bill says.

“We need a future that’s better for workers, better for the country and better for the next generation.”

The campaign is based on 5 key principles:

  • Prioritise community health and wellbeing
  • Workers’ wages leading the recovery
  • Keep and create decent jobs
  • Union members involved in all decisions
  • End inequality

“The campaign is focused not just on weathering the COVID-19 storm, but also creating a future for workers that’s better than the path we were on before,” Bill says.

“Community health and wellbeing should always be a priority. This means keeping people safe from COVID-19 in the immediate term, but we also need a longer term focus on improving health and wellbeing beyond the crisis.

“Workers’ wages need to lead the recovery. We don’t want any workers out of pocket because of COVID-19. We know that lower waged workers spend more of their hard-earned cash in the local economy than others do, so making sure workers are well paid is part of the necessary economic stimulus – as well as the morally right thing to do.

“We need to keep and create decent jobs. High wage, secure, and safe jobs. Our country should be doing a lot more to advance our manufacturing industries, our high-tech economy, and our green energy sector. There’s no point in a COVID-19 recovery that isn’t both socially and environmentally sustainable.

“Union members are worker experts, so they need to be involved in all decisions. That means representation at the top tables of industry and government. We need to be equal partners in decision making, both because of the expertise that working people have, and to ensure fair outcomes.

“Finally, we remain focussed on ending inequality. Our lowest paid workers simply cannot bear the full brunt of the economic downturn. We’re fighting for things like Fair Pay Agreements, the Living Wage, and social procurement to address these historic injustices.”

Please visit the new website www.rebuildbetter.nz to learn more.

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Bill Newson, 027 538 4246

Home support workers: half without adequate PPE

Half of New Zealand’s home support workers lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), according to initial results from an E tū survey which opened yesterday afternoon.

Home support worker Tarsh Dixon says the union launched the survey after the Government’s announced a rapid stocktake of PPE distribution midday yesterday.

The initial results are being released to coincide with a new international PPE campaign for support workers starting today.

Tarsh, an E tū national home support delegate, says the initial results are distressing.

“Immunosuppressed clients undergoing cancer treatment shouldn’t have to wait for another government report before their support workers get adequate PPE,” she says.

“Frontline staff know our PPE distribution system is broken; the Government needs to start listening to us and act today.”

The survey shows staff without adequate gear often have none not all, or employers are rationing the small amount available, she says.

“Some support workers have only had two masks since the lockdown started. One respondent just got her first protective equipment after five weeks of complaints. It was a single box of gloves.”

Survey feedback suggests clients are declining care because the lack of PPE makes them feel unsafe.

“In some cases, clients are being told to buy protective equipment if they are concerned their support workers have none.”

Initial results show workers are buying PPE, which Tarsh says is “an unfair expectation on low-paid workers”.

INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED IN NEW ZEALAND

Unions are launching an international PPE campaign “#ProtectHomecareWorkers” today, starting in New Zealand.

“Our Government deserves international recognition for its lockdown response,” Tarsh says.

“But our lack of PPE and poor distribution is part of a global problem and the system has let us down.

“Home support workers across the world face the same problem, and New Zealand has an opportunity to show the world how to respect our support workers,” she says.

Tarsh says the campaign demands are adequate PPE, correct payment, and respect.

“This is the minimum we need to ensure we can provide safe quality care to the world’s vulnerable people.”

ENDS
For more info and comment, contact Kirsty McCully, E tū Director, 027 204 6354.
Tarsh Dixon, home support delegate, is available for comment today. Please arrange with Kirsty.

Air NZ chooses irreparable damage to workplace culture

E tū says that Air New Zealand’s effort to save money in an extreme response to the COVID-19 is doing irreparable damage to their workplace culture.

Air New Zealand’s latest response to the crisis includes shutting down the RML Nelson maintenance facility, refusing to bring back work currently being done in Singapore, and keeping workers and the public in the dark about worker exposure to the virus.

The proposal to close the Nelson maintenance facility, with the potential loss of up to 100 jobs, has been under consideration by Air New Zealand since mid-2019. They are using the COVID-19 situation to go ahead with a closure despite regional flying being the least affected of all their activities.

One affected member, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that they were devastated when they heard the news.

“I had to take any plans I had made for the next 10 years and throw them in the rubbish. I took a considerable pay cut moving here, just so I could be a part of this great community.

“It’s not just the employees this affects. It’s also the partners and children that will all be torn from this community. I bought a house here, met my partner here, and have become a part of this community. I planned on spending the rest of my days walking on the beaches and in the forests of this great place. Now, I will be forced to chase work in bigger cities.”

Another anonymous member says that it is a big blow to the Nelson community.

“RML was set up by Air New Zealand to provide a more effective model of maintaining turboprop aircraft, which contributed to lower maintenance costs overall for the company. The growth of RML from Air Nelson has seen over 100 jobs being established in Nelson.

“It was a surprise to me that Air New Zealand have seemed to take a 180 turn on the reasons RML was set up. I am left feeling like Air New Zealand are trying to transfer the impact the virus is having in Christchurch to RML. It feels like we are being asked to accept this proposal under duress, and that it really has not been thought through.”

Another member said the timing of the decision was unfair.

“This will have a devastating effect on me and my family because there is no prospect of finding other work in Nelson. It is being done with very little notice, in a time of lock down due to COVID-19. I feel it is totally unfair to make these moves and make people redundant while the company takes government support.”

E tū aviation negotiation specialist, Paul Graham, says E tū challenged Air New Zealand in mid-March to support the regions and resist the temptation to close down regional operations.

“We called for them to keep RML heavy maintenance in Nelson open. They have ignored this call. They are increasingly blind to the human costs of their financial decisions,” Paul says.

“Air New Zealand are losing the respect of their employees and losing their status as a desired employer. Their behaviour towards their employees is increasingly heavy-handed.

“Air New Zealand’s reputation as a great carrier and good employer is one of the main reasons for their success. It seems they are choosing to throw that all away to maintain their cash reserves while they slash and burn jobs. This is despite receiving the wage subsidy and a substantial loan from the Government.

“Kiwis don’t want our national carrier behaving so badly. Our message to the company: do the right thing.”

E tū Head of Aviation, Savage, added that the secrecy around COVID-19 infections in the Air New Zealand workforce demonstrated their new approach.

“Their brand is more important than safety at the moment. There’s no transparency, little accountability, and they are quickly losing the faith of staff and the wider community.”

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Paul Graham, 027 204 6337
Savage, 027 590 0074

Disgust as OCS stops Vic Uni from topping up cleaner wages

OCS Limited NZ, the contractor for cleaning services at Victoria University, has refused an offer from the university to top up the wages of cleaners who are at home in lockdown.

University cleaners are doing their part for the community and staying home, with many only being paid 80% of their wages during the Alert Level 4 period. They earn just above the minimum wage, and paying bills and supporting families on these very low wages is already very hard. 

Victoria University cleaner and E tū delegate Henok Gebre says the news is disheartening for all of his workmates.

“Most of my colleagues are fathers and mothers who are the sole earners of their households and were already struggling to get by on minimum wage,” Henok says.

You can understand why learning that they are going to only earn 80% of their wages was really terrible news.

“With government subsidies factored in, OCS probably could have afforded to pay us 100% as it is. If you add in the university’s offer, they would have been more than capable of paying us 100%.

“It’s not too late – we’re urging OCS to reconsider their position and do the right thing.”

E tū organiser Yvette Taylor says the company’s behaviour is appalling.

“As the country went into Alert Level 4 lockdown, Victoria University decided to do the decent and fair thing by offering funding to OCS to go towards paying the cleaners.  They know that their cleaners have it tough as it is,” Yvette says.

“However, OCS refused, citing some ambiguous reasons that don’t make any sense. It is totally ridiculous that they won’t accept the money and pass it on”.

“The money is there, and the workers desperately need it. A 20% pay cut, when you’re on the minimum wage is devastating. So a responsible employer would welcome this opportunity with open arms. To reject it is simply disgusting.”

Marlon Drake, student and former VUWSA President says the Victoria University student community support the cleaners.

“Cleaners aren’t just staff at university, they’re a part of our community. They’re the people keeping our campus safe. Every single one of our students knows this.

“We’re supposed to be kind to each other. The students know this, and clearly the university does too. Now is the time for OCS to do right by the cleaners, anything less is unacceptable.”

ENDS

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

Aged care funding “inadequate and lacks accountability”

Yesterday’s aged care funding boost announced to deal with COVID-19 will be a band aid solution unless safe staffing and comprehensive regulation are a part of the solution.

It is unclear what outcomes the Ministry of Health expect from the funding boost. The additional $26 million for residential aged care providers is part of the Government’s COVID-19 response after many on-going issues have become urgent in aged care following a series of resident deaths. These issues include understaffing and inadequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

E tū member and residential aged care worker, Mary (not her real name), is really worried about the staffing levels at her facility.

“I do my best to care for them properly – my residents are an extension of my family. I’ve been caring for them for years. I have worked as a caregiver for nine years and over that time you get to really know and care for the residents,” Mary says.

“It is hard now to realise they are most at risk and that we may see some of them die as a result of COVID-19. Their families have entrusted them to us because they believe they will be in safe hands, but we don’t always have the staff numbers or safety processes to keep them safe.

“A number of staff have two jobs, and some have left my workplace entirely because they are paid and treated better during COVID-19 at a different job. This has left us short staffed. I completed 12-hour nightshift the another day because they were short staffed, but I can’t keep doing that.

Mary says the PPE issues need to be sorted immediately.

“PPE needs to be available and to be easily accessible – we deserve to feel safe at work. We need to feel safe and know we are able to keep residents we care for safe as well.”

E tū Director Sam Jones says the problems have been getting worse over time.

“In the last 10 – 15 years it’s become particularly bad,” Sam says.

“Chief amongst these problems is that staffing guidelines are not adequate in the sector. The only direction to providers are voluntary guidelines last issued in 2005 and the absolute minimums specified in the provider contracts with the DHBs and are long overdue for updating.

“Cleaning, laundry, and kitchen staff for example, remain on close to minimum wage levels for the important role they play in ensuring the safety and care outcomes in these facilities. Members can see that deaths of those they care for could be one of the consequences of years of understaffing and underfunding.”

Many of the issues were well documented in the 2019 report ‘In Safe Hands?’.

Union members are quoted in that report, pointing out the long-standing issues.

“Staff feel like they are providing a below par service. We work extra time for free and go home exhausted, some days crying as we didn’t manage to do everything,” one worker reported.

E tū is calling for:

  • the Ministry of Health PPE guidelines to be updated and clarified now with adequate supply to the workers.
  • an acknowledgement of the long-standing issues by the Government.
  • inspections and DHB audits of aged care facilities that include full worker participation.
  • a full enquiry into staffing beyond COVID-19 to ensure mandatory safe staffing. This could be done by expanding the scope of the Ombudsmen’s pending investigation into secure facilities.

ENDS

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

Home support workers are on the front line, so why haven’t they been paid?

Despite guaranteed government funding and subsidy schemes such as essential service leave, the largest employers in New Zealand’s home support sector have this week either not paid or vastly underpaid many home support workers, or forced them into taking annual leave.

The Public Service Association and E tū both represent home support workers, and the unions say the failure to pay essential workers is tantamount to wage theft and subsidy theft from the government, and is an illegal breach of staff Collective Employment Agreements.

“These breaches come at a time when support workers continue to risk their own wellbeing, often without adequate PPE, and go out day after day into the homes of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people”, says E tū Organising Director Kirsty McCully.

“Support workers are lifelines to our elderly people, those with disabilities or long term conditions. Despite weeks of government promises they still do not have reliable access to PPE, and on top of all that they now wake up to empty bank accounts. When will it end?”

The unions stand together and call on employers in the sector to urgently fix the situation and pay workers what they are owed.

“We are beyond disappointed to see employers breach their agreements with our members, forcing them into financial hardship at the worst possible time. While so many of us stay home over the long weekend, these workers will go from house to house putting themselves at risk to help others,” says PSA Assistant National Secretary Melissa Woolley. 

“Home support workers may only be guaranteed five hours a week, but routinely work forty or more. Some have now been sent home because of compromised immune systems, and are only being paid for their few guaranteed hours instead of the full time hours they normally work.”

The issue will be raised directly and firmly with all employers and relevant government agencies.

“Support workers have already used up every piece of goodwill they have left in order convincing themselves to continue to come to work in situations where they don’t have adequate PPE to protect themselves and their clients”, says Kirsty McCully.

“Today alone I’ve had 20 support workers come to me and say this is the final straw and they’re quitting the sector for good. They feel disrespected and used. It’s not good enough for those in caring professions to have their dedication to client care taken advantage of.”

The unions encourage workers to stand up to mistreatment and take whatever steps are necessary to protect their safety.

“Support workers have had enough. In recent years we have won equal pay settlements and guaranteed hours, but at every turn those higher up the chain try to undermine these advances and give workers less than they deserve,” says Melissa Woolley.

“Our members just want to look after those in need in a safe environment and get paid for their work. We have advised our members to defer unsafe work until their employers provide adequate PPE. It’s up to employers and government to make this right.”

ENDS