Category: COVID-19

A sad end for Virgin NZ

E tū members are hugely disappointed that Virgin Australia has decided to shut up shop in New Zealand quickly, bringing a tight knit workforce to an abrupt end.

The company emailed staff last night, telling them a shutdown was effective immediately. Roughly 600 New Zealand-based staff have lost their jobs.

Kylie Halligan, flight attendant and E tū member, says the last three weeks “have been a complete roller coaster”.

“To say I’m devastated is an understatement. I’ve not only lost a job, I’ve lost a family. The Virgin Australia bases here in NZ were relatively small and we all knew everyone. The bonds formed while working and staying away from home all the time could never be replicated in any other profession.”

Other members anonymously shared their sadness.

“It came as a huge blow for my partner and me who were both employed by Virgin with combined service years of close to 20 years. It’s not just a job loss. It was a way of life and a career we cherished too, for me and the hundreds of others we’ve worked with. It’s an extremely sad time for all, as some of us have been here since the very beginning of the NZ operation and it breaks my heart seeing it all end so abruptly,” says one member.

Another member says the company hasn’t done enough to soften the blow.

“The tag line of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be ‘these are unprecedented times’. This phrase has been used to justify some of the most disappointing behaviour that I have seen from Virgin Australia to date. In the past month, my world and many others have been abruptly shaken, and rather than being given kindness, support and compassion from the company which I have served for the past 12 years, they have given me anguish, stress, and uncertainty.

“It will be very tough for many of us to move forward now, for people like me who have flown for the most of our lives, for the solo mothers who fly with us, for the pilots who have trained for a decade or more to get to where they were. The airline industry will not be what it was before. We are unlikely to find jobs working as crew again with much ease. My heart is broken from the sudden upheaval for my whānau and I feel dazed and lost.”

E tū Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh says that the union isn’t convinced Virgin needed to close so quickly.

“The company should have applied for the wage subsidy and done more to ensure the continuity of employment and pay for their workers. We are urging all employers, in aviation and beyond, to take advantage of the government wage subsidy and not let the workers bear the full brunt of the downturn.”

“The global aviation industry is in a precarious state. Airlines has been in a race to the bottom for over a decade and workers are paying the price.

“Fortunately, E tū members have been totally united though this which has allowed them to secure the full redundancy package under their collective agreement, plus some additional travel benefits. This had been uncertain through the last few weeks, but members stood tall.

“However, 19 members who have been employed for less than a year aren’t entitled to redundancy – this is a real concern for those members and their families. It’s not good enough.”

ENDS

For more info and comment
Rachel Mackintosh, 027543 7943

Message to Fletchers – don’t cut pay!

E tū members at Fletcher Building Ltd are not satisfied with the company’s announcement that they intend to cut pay by up to 70%, while top executives keep earning megabucks.

Last night, the company sent a letter to all employees outlining their proposal which would see thousands of workers severely out of pocket for many weeks.

E tū negotiation specialist Joe Gallagher says that the unfairness is incredible.

“We expect companies to do the right thing and pay all workers 100% of their average weekly earnings, especially companies like Fletchers who can easily afford it,” Joe says.

“It’s frankly unbelievable that they want workers to take such a gigantic pay cut while the higher-ups, who earn up to half a million dollars a year, will take just a 15% cut in their pay.

“It shows a lack of respect for the workforce that keeps their company moving. It shows that they don’t seem to care about families getting through the crisis.

“This is not a struggling company. They have massive public and private contracts and could absolutely afford to keep everyone employed with the pay rates that union members have fought hard to secure. Instead, they’re passing the cost of COVID-19 directly onto the workers. It’s outrageous.”

Joe says that these issues should be addressed through proper consultation.

“We want proper consultation and engagement, but workers have only been given about 24 hours to consider the proposal.

“The Government subsidy enables Fletchers to pay 100% over the four weeks of lockdown, which allows meaningful time for proper engagement with the workforce.”

Joe says that Fletchers can’t unilaterally impose such changes across their workforce.

“The Employment Relations Act and our collective agreements are still fully in force. COVID-19 has not suspended our rights at work. The virus does not give license for companies to just do as they please.

“We’re very open to engaging properly through this process, but with the company already leaving workers out of crucial decision-making, we need to be clear: our bottom line is that workers are paid properly and given the job and wage security that they deserve and have fought for.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015

PPE victory for frontline health workers

Frontline health workers in aged care, home care, and community support are relieved by the Ministry of Health announcement that proper PPE will now be made available to them through DHBs.

E tū member Pam King, a support worker in Invercargill, congratulated the Ministry for listening to support workers.

“We are pleased with this decision by the Ministry of Health. It’s great that support workers and our clients will be better protected, and that we won’t unduly risk the spread of COVID-19 amongst our most at-risk populations,” Pam says.

“I regularly see 20 or more clients a day and, like me, they want to know we are protected as much as possible from spreading this awful virus.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says that while this is a good first step towards ensuring all care workers are protected, more needs to be done.

“There is still work to do on rostering arrangements and screening processes to further minimise risk, and we look forward to the Ministry, DHBs, and providers working across the sector to ensure the right decisions are made and implemented at pace,” Kirsty says.

“We also want to see clear guidance on the issue of pay for the immune compromised, over 70s, and those with caring responsibilities in essential services to ensure they don’t lose out for doing the right thing by everyone and staying home.”

Kirsty says these issues are being faced by workforces around the world.

“The provision of PPE for frontline care workers is a global issue. Care workers worldwide have been calling for protection for themselves and others using the hashtag #GetMePPE.

“E tū joins forces with care workers everywhere in calling for respect, protection, and support for our frontline carers who are out there working tirelessly at the moment to ensure our communities say safe.”

ENDS

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

E tū tells Air NZ to ‘take a breather’ and delay redundancies

E tū is not convinced that Air New Zealand need to lay off as many people as quickly as they have proposed.

Last night, Air New Zealand told staff, including over 5,000 E tū members, that up to 3,500 people would lose their jobs in the next couple of months.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh says that the company is moving faster than it needs to.

“It’s time to take a breather and keep people employed until we actually know what’s going to happen in the aviation industry domestically and globally,” Rachel says.

“Regardless of the problems, Air New Zealand needs to remain a company where there are decent jobs and where workers are respected and valued.  Every Air New Zealand employee understands the massive challenge facing the airline, but the airline cannot recover if workers do not have a say.

“Forging ahead with extreme cuts will hurt too many people. It will undermine Air New Zealand and damage the economic recovery. It will damage the company’s culture and slash at the company’s brand promise. If they rush into this, Air New Zealand will forever be known as the company that kicked their workers while they were down.”

Rachel says that the company has alternatives to consider.

“We understand the scale of the problem, but the company have options. They have $1 billion in the bank. They have access to $70 million worth of wage subsidy and a $900 million dollar taxpayer loan to fall back on. To formally initiate redundancy talks while so many workers are on lockdown at home would be a mistake. It’s just wrong.

“The mid- and long-term future of flying in the Asia-Pacific region is open to speculation. No one can really say what will happen. Domestic and regional flying will start to recover in the next few months as New Zealand emerges from Alert Level 4 and can travel again.

“The Prime Minister has said we need to ‘go hard and go early’ to stop the spread of COVID-19, but Air New Zealand are wrong to take the same approach to firing thousands of their workers.”

ENDS

For more info and comment:
Rachel Mackintosh, 027 543 7943

Home support workers awaiting COVID-19 test results

Two groups home support workers may have been exposed to COVID-19 and are in self-isolation, as the family member of a client, who lives with the client, awaits test results.

E tū understands that up to seven home support workers may have been exposed.

One home support worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, is very worried about how many clients may have also been infected.

“I’ve been into the client’s home several times during the global pandemic. The job requires two support workers because we have to lift the client, so there are a few of us who might be affected,” they say.

“One support worker has also started a job at a local rest home recently, on top of her home support work, so we’re really worried about those residents as well.”

Test results are expected tomorrow.

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says this demonstrates the massive need for proper PPE in home support.

“It’s just ridiculous that so many frontline health workers that care for vulnerable, elderly people, are not being given the right equipment,” Kirsty says.

“All it takes is for one person to get COVID-19 and spread it to other clients, or even around a rest home, for the virus to spin out of control.

“Home support workers have a simple message – get us PPE and manage the risks properly to minimise the spread of COVID-19.”

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Kirsty McCully 027 204 6354

Answers needed for PPE concerns in home support

Increasingly concerned home support workers are worried that without adequate personal protective equipment and mandatory protocols for risk assessments, they may end up spreading COVID-19 around the homes and communities they work in.

The news that 21 hospital workers are now self-isolating as a result of exposure to NZ’s first person to have died from COVID-19 has raised additional concerns for the support workforce who say processes and protocols in their sector are not robust enough to cope with the complexities and challenges of self-isolation requirements.

Jan, a support worker from the South Island who doesn’t want her last name published, is worried about safety.

“I sometimes visit 20 or more homes in a day, I visit our over 65s and people with disabilities or other long-term conditions, and I am concerned for the safety and wellbeing of my clients, and myself,” Jan says.

“We cannot stay six feet away from those we support when we provide personal cares such as showering, we’re usually in close contact. I think there’s a misunderstanding about what we do – we want to continue to support our clients, but we don’t want to be responsible for community spread here in NZ.”

“I know support workers around the country talking about quitting the sector for good if these concerns remain, and I know many are talking about refusing to work in situations which they consider to be unsafe.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says that Jan’s concerns are being echoed across the board.

“Care workers worldwide share these concerns and, alongside other frontline health workforces, are calling for PPE to be made available to them,” she says.

“We’ve heard that there isn’t a supply issue here in New Zealand, but support workers currently struggle to access it, and the current advice to support workers is that they do not need it unless they are dealing with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.

“Providers with PPE including masks must urgently pass them on to the support workers they employ. If they don’t have any, DHBs must act to distribute the PPE support workers need at this time.

“Unless something is done fast, this could become a public health disaster – clients are beginning to cancel their care, and ultimately if they become unwell they will end up in hospital at a time when our health system must be prioritised for those requiring COVID-19 and other urgent treatment.”

E tū has met repeatedly with Ministry of Health and DHB representatives to raise the concerns of support workers and is calling for urgent action on the matter.

ENDS

For more info or comment:
Kirsty McCully 027 204 6354

Victory! Sistema workers off on full pay

E tū members at Sistema have secured a huge victory, with all production workers off work on full pay for the next four weeks.

Sistema claims to be an essential service and had originally told workers they would be working through the Alert Level 4 shutdown period.

The members were not satisfied with the lax approach to health and safety, so they left the building and refused to do anymore work on Wednesday, until they could be sure it was safe.

After a WorkSafe visit today, the company has now told workers that they will not have to report to work and will be on full pay for the next four weeks.

E tū member and production worker at Sistema, Ilisapesi Talanoa, has a lot of gratitude for her colleagues.

“A big thank you to union and non-union members for standing up for what’s right. You’ve stood up to protect yourself and your family,” she says.

“I’m so proud that everyone came together to fight for our health and safety. Our first priority is our people.”

Ilisapesi also has a message for all Kiwis: “Be safe, be kind, and much love.”

E tū organiser Mat Danaher says that this result wouldn’t have happened without the members taking matters into their own hands.

“Let’s make no mistake, this is a direct result of workers coming together to defend the safety of themselves, their family, and their community,” Mat says.

“Many Kiwis will remember the struggles that Sistema workers have been through. They’ve learnt that they have real power over their work lives when they stand up for each other.”

Mat says that the classification of essential services is quickly becoming a massive concern as the New Zealand workforce deals with the COVID-19 impacts and restrictions.

“There are two main issues. The first is the risk of employers dubiously claiming that they are an essential service because they are somewhere along the supply chain for actual essential services. We will need a lot more clarity around this in the coming days.

“The second issue is that those who actually qualify as essential services are often completely unprepared for working safely, such as by providing PPE and giving workers enough physical distance from each other.

“Both issues mean that unions and Government need to ensure WorkSafe, the Labour Inspectorate, and workers themselves are vigilant to ensure the virus can’t spread through unsafe work.

“Until then, workers around New Zealand should learn from Sistema workers’ brilliant example – to stay safe, we have to use our collective power. Every decision we make to slow the spread of the virus will save lives, and there’s nothing more important than that.”

ENDS

For more info and comment: Mat Danaher, 021 336 519
Sistema members may be available for interviews on request. Please contact Mat to arrange.

Sistema workers walk out over H&S concerns

Workers at Sistema’s Auckland plant have taken matters into their own hands today as the company refuses to take their health and safety seriously. They are now on a health and safety strike.

When workers have been asking about personal protective equipment (PPE), they have apparently been told to “wait and see” what the government advice is – despite clear regulations coming into force.

They have also been required to keep working on production lines, often standing less than a metre apart for hours at a time.

With this being clearly unacceptable, workers have now gathered in the carpark and some have gone home.

E tū organisers are assisting the workers, including by making sure that they are practising physical distancing while on strike.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says the employer’s behaviour is despicable.

“E tū is appalled by the brazen lack of respect and common decency from Sistema,” Annie says.

“All workers have a right to healthy and safe work. It is as clear as day, from the government advice we are all receiving, that the conditions described by E tū members at Sistema are far from adequate.

“We have had many issues with Sistema in the past, but this is simply abhorrent. We completely support any of our members refusing to work in unsafe conditions – that is their legal right.”

Annie added Sistema’s behaviour puts us all at risk.

“This is not just about our workers, it’s about their families and communities. It’s about anyone who they may come into contact with. Sistema is putting production ahead of the health of New Zealanders. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Kiwis will die because of employers like this not taking COVID-19 seriously.

“The vast majority of New Zealanders are making gigantic sacrifices to keep each other safe. Now a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars is compromising that to try and squeeze a little bit more out of our overworked and underpaid members.

“New Zealanders have united against COVID-19 and are uniting against the small handful of employers who think their profits are worth more than our lives. We can now add Sistema to that list of disgusting businesses.”

ENDS

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

E tū Support phone lines affected by national interruptions

Dear members,

With the significant announcement made by the PM this afternoon that we are on the way to ‘alert level 4’, we are experiencing an extremely high number of calls to E tū Support and we are affected by the nation-wide interruption to phone lines. We appreciate that there is so much uncertainly and many people will need to talk to the union about work arrangements.
If you can, please send an email to [email protected] instead of calling, or try calling later.

We appreciate your understanding and will continue to work to get everyone as well informed and represented as possible as the situation develops.

Stay safe out there.