Category: General

Profile: Lalopua Sanele QSM

E tū leader, delegate, and cleaner Lalopua Sanele has been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in the Queen’s Birthday honours list 2021, for services to the union movement and Samoan community. Here’s a little bit more about Lalopua and her story of service.

Lalopua Sanele came to New Zealand in 1972 and was immediately involved in the Wellington Samoan Community based around her church – St Anne’s Catholic Church in Newtown.

From 1972 until 2010 she was an active member of the St Anne’s Church Choir and she joined the Samoan Mother’s Group in 1974, where she played a leadership role and was elected as their treasurer. She was later elected as the treasurer for the Church Samoan Community, a role she held until 2000.

In 2010 she moved with the Samoan Catholic Community to St Josephs Parish in Mount Victoria, where is still an active member of Iesu le Tupu choir.

Lalopua has been employed as a cleaner at Wellington Hospital since 1987. The majority of Wellington Hospital cleaners have, for the past 40 years, been mainly from Samoa or other Pacific nations.

Due to Lalopua’s ability to organise and advocate she was elected as a workplace union delegate.

Her involvement in the union lead her to become a leader in the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union (later becoming the Service and Food Workers Union and then E tū) Komiti Pasifika. She was elected on to the union’s regional executive and later the National Executive.

Lalopua represented her union at biennial NZ Council of Trade Union Komiti Pasifika Fono and also at the South Pacific and Oceania Council of Trade Unions Conference.

Lalopua is very active in advocating for the improvement of employment rights for workers, especially for vulnerable workers, such as cleaners. She was prominent in the campaign 1999-2004 to gain an amendment to the Employment Relations Act (Part 6A) in 2004 to protect the jobs and working conditions of cleaners during tendering processes. She was able to articulate the issues for cleaners from her own experience at Wellington Hospital in going through the process of contract change and the insecurity and stress that this caused the cleaners and their families.

She appears regularly before Parliamentary Select Committees on behalf of the union supporting improvements in statutory annual leave, rest breaks and improved rights for elected workplace representatives.

Lalopua is now a cleaning supervisor at Wellington Hospital and has completed 34 years service, including working through the recent Level 4 lockdown overseeing the infection control measures put in place for hospital cleaning.

Budget 2021: Social insurance “long overdue”

E tū is celebrating the release of Budget 2021 today, which makes significant moves improve the lives of Aotearoa’s workers and their communities.

In particular, E tū applauds the plan for an ACC-style ‘social insurance’ scheme, which would give workers income protection if they lose their jobs.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says it’s great that the Government are prioritising the idea, which was in the Labour Party’s 2020 election manifesto.

“COVID-19 reminded us again how important it is to support people as they move in and out of work,” Annie says.

“Losing an income, even for a short while, can have extremely negative effects on workers and their families. Social insurance schemes have been proven to work well to mitigate this in many other counties, and its high time that Aotearoa New Zealand caught up.

“We fully support the idea and urge the Government to move quickly on this, as it is long overdue.”

E tū home support members will be celebrating increases for in-between travel.

“Finally, there is funding for home support workers to be paid properly when they are travelling between clients. Until 2015, workers weren’t paid at all for this travel. E tū members won the minimum wage for that time spent in the car, and Budget 2021 will see them getting their proper wage for that part of their work.

“There’s also funding for home support workers to have proper paid breaks – which is also long overdue.

“MSD security guards can also celebrate, with the Government’s commitment to paying them the Living Wage now cemented in the Budget.”

The Budget contains more pro-worker initiatives, such as restoring the Training Incentive Allowance, new funding for vocational education growth, and a further commitment to a Just Transition.

“Increased capital funding for Green Investment Finance will support growth in new, clean industries to replace those in fossil fuel sectors – but workers will need an assurance that this investment will lead to good, secure jobs.”

Annie says there is a lot more to celebrate in this Budget.

“We are very happy that the Government is finally making substantial moves on raising benefits – this will help people who lose their jobs from now, before the social insurance scheme is implemented. It will mean that if people are out of work long term, for whatever reason, they can live happier and healthier lives.

“We also commend initiatives supporting tangata whenua, new investment in education, and a lot more.

“Finance Minister Grant Robertson has described the three Budgets this term as a ‘package’ – we are looking forward to the next instalments for workers and our communities.”

ENDS

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

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.

One step closer to Matariki holiday

Workers across the country are celebrating today as the Labour Government take a further step towards their pre-election commitment to make Matariki a public holiday.

The Government have announced that the first Matariki public holiday will be on 24 June 2022 and the date will change every year, similar to Easter.

E tū Co-President Muriel Tunoho says a mid-winter public holiday is long overdue.

“After Queen’s Birthday, Kiwi workers don’t get a public holiday until Labour Day in October. Matariki will give people a much-needed ray of sunshine in the middle of winter,” Muriel says.

“We are very happy that this will be a new public holiday. Matariki is unique and indigenous to Aotearoa and it is a very positive way our nation can all embrace it together.”

Muriel says that while the Government are making good progress on some workplace relations issues, other urgent issues remain.

“While an extra public holiday is fantastic news, E tū continues to campaign for many other changes that will fundamentally improve workplace relations in Aotearoa, such as the implementation of Fair Pay Agreements, paying the Living Wage to all workers in the public service, and strengthening industrial democracy.”

E tū condemns arrests of Hong Kong democracy activists

E tū has joined New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister, global unions and others in condemning the arrest this week of over 50 prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.

Among those arrested was aviation worker Carol Ng, the chair of the Hong Kong Council of Trade Unions and former general secretary of the British Airways Hong Kong International Cabin Crew Association. Carol was released last night but the arrests are part of an ongoing and escalating intimidation of the democracy movement in Hong Kong.

E tū spokesperson Sam Huggard says the union extends its solidarity to Carol and other trade union and democracy activists.

“An attack on democracy is an attack on ordinary working people and communities and cannot be tolerated. We join with others in condemning this move and call on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to stop this intimidation immediately,” Sam says.

The detentions were made by local police, under the controversial National Security Law, for trying to “overthrow” the government by holding primary elections for pro-democracy candidates in last year’s postponed elections.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Sam Huggard, 021 462 148

COVID-19: 13 August update

Dear E tū members,
 
As we find ourselves facing a new lockdown period, we wish to reassure you that E tū remains fully able and ready to advise and support our members throughout this time.
 
E tū Auckland area members are advised to work from home where possible from 12pm on Wednesday 12 August for a minimum of three days. Essential services and businesses that are able to operate safely will continue as per the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines.

All others on Level 2 must take COVID-19 health protection measures very seriously over that period.
 
Please keep an eye on www.covid19.govt.nz for the latest info.
 
Our staff in Auckland must operate from home, but we are equipped to do that. We are also aware that the Alert Level periods may be extended.
 
We know that many of our members are essential workers or may be working over this period, and we thank you for the wonderful services you  provide to your whanau and communities all the time, including during our last lockdown.

We were here for our members through the last lockdown. We had your back. We remain here for you.
 
In this lockdown period, please remember:

  • You are entitled to your full ordinary pay when required to be at home, unless your employment agreement says otherwise.  Contact your delegate or an organiser at 0800 186 466 if you’re unsure.
  • Members are strongly advised not to agree to be paid less or to use leave entitlements in place of ordinary pay.
  • Employers of members continuing to work must have clear COVID-19 safety protocols in the workplace and provide adequate PPE to protect your health and safety in as far as is practical.
  • Members, who are vulnerable due to health concerns or immune compromised, are advised to take extra precautions if continuing to work. Discuss any concerns with your GP.

If you are in doubt then talk with your delegate, health and safety reps, employer, or contact E tū on 0800 1 UNION or [email protected]. Please understand that given the circumstances, this may mean longer waiting times than usual.

Now is a good time to remember that E tū has core principles for how we handle COVID-19, which are the building blocks of our Rebuild Better campaign:

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

For more details on this, check out: www.rebuildbetter.nz

We’ll keep our website up to date with all the latest info as well: www.etu.nz 
Above all, take care, be kind, and take COVID-19 precautions.

Thank you,
Bill Newson
E tū National Secretary

Union stands in solidarity with members over death at worksite

E tū offers sincere condolences in the wake of the tragic death of a member from Auckland’s Alto Packaging.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh says the union stands in solidarity with his family and fellow union members who have lost one of their own.

“Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones, as well as his colleagues and the wider community, who have been deeply affected by his sudden death,” Rachel says.

“We believe that everyone should have the right to return safely from work each day and will do all we can to support both his family and our members in the coming days.”

ENDS

For more info and comment:
Rachel Mackintosh 027 543 7943
Rachel will be available to take media calls after 8pm tonight

Leverage and organisation in the struggle against the undervaluation of care and support workers

By John Ryall, former E tū Assistant National Secretary

Introduction

David Weil of Harvard University developed a theory of “strategic choice” for unions, in which he divided the power-building task into two facets – strategic leverage and organisational capacity. According to Weil, when both strategic leverage and organisational capacity are high, the chances of a union win are vastly improved. When either of these is low the chances of winning are correspondingly lessened.

According to Weil organisational capacity is the strength of the union’s internal organisation (eg increasing union density, active articulate members), while strategic leverage is the factors outside of the union that give the union added power (eg political and community allies, labour shortages, legal cases, public support).

The unanimous vote in Parliament in favour of the 2017 Care and Support Pay Equity (Settlement) Act, following a union-negotiated $2.2 billion settlement, was not just a win for 55,000 low-paid care and support workers, but a confirmation of this theory.

For 40 years aged residential care workers, joined at a later stage by their comrades in disability support and home support, had struggled to build both organisational capacity and strategic leverage to have the undervaluation of their work recognised and put right.

The eventual success of this struggle must be understood in this context.

Creating Minimum Conditions

The award system, which for nearly 100 years provided national minimum wage rates for private sector occupations, almost completely missed aged residential care workers.

The first award was achieved for rest home workers in 1973, but only for those in the Canterbury District. This award was opposed by the majority of rest home owners in the area, who were represented by the Religious and Welfare Providers Group.

They applied to the Arbitration Court for their exclusion from the award because their workforce was mainly “married women” who saw the work “primarily as a contribution to a worthy cause”. They submitted a letter from a female worker who stated that she was “completely satisfied” with her current situation.

The court sided with the union and rejected the application, although the fight did not finish there, as nine years later the Salvation Army was still arguing that it was not covered by the award because it was not seeking “any pecuniary gain” from the work. The court again rejected this argument and said that the Salvation Army workers should receive the award conditions.

The Hotel and Hospital Workers Federation organised throughout the rest of the country and finally in 1980 achieved a New Zealand-wide Rest Home Workers Award.

The 1970s saw all awards phasing out female-specific pay rates as the 1972 Equal Pay Act outlawed discriminatory pay rates on the basis of gender. Rest home workers hardly noticed such a change, even in Canterbury, as it was hard to find a male worker, although the Arbitration Court nominated an arbitrary rate that was to be achieved in four steps.

Organising in the 1980s

While the Muldoon-led National Government’s 1982-84 wage freeze held up improvements in workers’ conditions, the election of the Lange-led Labour Government saw the removal of the wage freeze, and the organising of rest home workers taking off with a new drive for union workplace  structures, union delegate education, regional and national delegates’ meetings.

The Government policy of moving continuing care patients out of public hospitals into aged residential care put the focus on the difference between the wage rates for Hotel and Hospital Workers Union public hospital members (cleaners, food service workers and orderlies) and rest home members.

The NZ Rest Home Award rate at the time was $4.45 an hour, the weekend part-time rates were time and a quarter, and penal rates for working on public holidays were less than double time.

Public hospital part-time workers at that time were paid $5.49 an hour, time and a quarter at nights, time and a half and double time for working weekends, and triple time for public holidays.

The claim from rest home workers to match the public hospital employment conditions was supported enthusiastically by meetings of rest home workers, but industry employers were less than enthusiastic without additional government funding.

Although compulsory arbitration had been removed in 1984, because of the rise in the organisational capacity of its unionised workforce, including the first sector strikes, the aged care employers agreed that union parity claims could go to the Arbitration Court for a decision in both 1985 and 1987.

The union was not fully successful before the Court. The Court focussed on the distinction between hospitals as part of the “health system” and rest homes as part of “welfare services”, although the Court increased the wage rates in the sector by more than double the increases being achieved by workers in the wider New Zealand economy. For the first time, the Court accepted that workers supporting residents with personal care were entitled to a higher rate (equivalent to the cook’s rate) to recognise the skill required in this job and introduced an additional allowance for caregivers with a Level 1 qualification.

While the employers’ all-male witnesses in the 1987 case all argued that the work of caregivers was unskilled (one said the work was “similar to the work that women did in their own homes”), they did agree to many of the union demands to lift the employment conditions of the predominantly female workforce by the end of the 1980s.

The caregiver base rates increased to be only slightly less than the public hospital rates, weekend rates had been increased to time-and-a-half, a shift payment and free meal had been introduced for night shift workers, bereavement leave had been improved, sick leave had increased to 10 days per year, the award coverage had been extended to day centres for the elderly and caregivers were looking at using the about-to-be-passed Employment Equity Act 1990 as a point of leverage to increase their wages even further.

With the election of the National Government in 1990 this progress came to a grinding halt. The Employment Equity Act 1990 was repealed and the Employment Contracts Act was introduced. The NZ Rest Home Workers Award expired on 30 April 1991 and the Licensed Rest Homes Association said they had no interest in renewing it without major cuts to penal rates, overtime and leave arrangements.

The Religious and Welfare Providers Group agreed to roll over the award for a further 12 months with a 2% wage increase, and on expiry they then demanded the same clawbacks as the private owners.

The 1990s was a period of massive destruction of employment rights for rest home workers, even though the union fought a rearguard action in some areas to protect the conditions of members. Sick leave, night and weekend rates, qualification payments and union rights were taken while new hours of work and employment status clauses were introduced through “take it or leave the job” individual contracts or employer-captured collective contracts.

The 1990s was a decade when sector employers dictated employment terms and used the Employment Contracts Act and the newly invented “partial lockout”, where the employer forced you to come to work but on lesser conditions until you agreed to sign a contract permanently giving your conditions away.

By 2000 the pattern in the sector was well established. Penalty rates for weekends had either been removed or substantially reduced to the level of a small allowance. Overtime rates were either removed or reduced. The hourly rate was very low, either at or near the minimum wage and unionisation levels had tumbled.

The ERA and New Strategies

The advent of the Employment Relations Act 2000 did not significantly improve matters. Early decisions of the Employment Court confirmed the weakness of the new legislation in the area of multi-employer bargaining, meaning that unless it was convenient to employers to have multi-employer agreements such bargaining could not and did not take place.

The funding arrangements for the aged care sector effectively precluded or at least abridged and seriously limited genuine collective bargaining in the sector. The Residential Care Association (the rest home employers’ national body) admitted in January 2001 that sector wages were poor and that this had caused a turnover of staff but said “we will provide the (employment) conditions the Government is willing to pay for”.

The reaction of the two unions, the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) and the NZ Nurses Organisation (NZNO), was to search for other mechanisms to address these problems.

In 2001 the two unions sent a paper to the Associate Minister of Health Ruth Dyson describing the dire situation for workers in the aged care sector and in 2002, and supported by the NZCTU they proposed setting up a tripartite forum to address workforce issues, including caregiver pay rates.

This organisation, called the Health of the Older Persons’ Forum (HOOPS), also included the consumer advocacy groups Grey Power and Age Concern.

The unions’ focus was minimum qualifications, higher pay rates and minimum staffing levels, but they accepted that the winning of minimum qualifications for caregivers was likely to be the pathway to higher wage rates. This was also the issue that united all the forum participants.

The NZCTU distributed a discussion document in 2002 entitled “Training for Caregivers in the Aged Care Sector”, which included recommendations on training and qualification standards. In 2003 the Forum supported the NZCTU recommendations, including funding to the Careerforce Industry Training Organisation to develop the uptake of a national training standard, that the training would be provided free of cost to the caregiver, at no cost to the employer and once the caregivers had completed the qualification government would fund providers enough for a $2.00 an hour pay increase (at that time 20% of the then base rate for caregivers).

While the Associate Minister of Health prepared a budget bid to implement this proposal the paucity of data on the existing number of caregivers, their existing qualification level and their pay rates meant that it could not be accurately costed. The 2003/2004 budget did though allocate $1 million for background research, called the Quality and Safety Project, to inform a budget bid for the 2004/2005 financial year.

The unions did not wait for the Quality and Safety Project to deliver its data on the workforce (which by then had been extended to the whole of the care and support workforce, not just aged residential care). They commenced organising around the HOOPS Forum proposal through parliamentary submissions and campaigning against employers not passing-on the government funding they received to the caregiver workforce.

In 2004 the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, in a report on two petitions about caregiver wage rates and qualifications, said it supported “the full implementation of a fairly paid, fairly reimbursed and appropriately trained workforce.”

The Quality and Safety Project completed its work in August 2004 and its research showed an annual turnover in the aged residential care sector of 29% and employers agreeing that more than half of their care workforce was not adequately trained to carry out their job. The Minister of Health allocated funding to Careerforce to develop a foundations-level qualification that could be used as part of the minimum qualification/higher pay rate proposal.

Later that year the Ministry of Health allocated funding to test a Careerforce foundations course on 1000-1200 caregivers. Pressure from the HOOP forum and the religious and welfare employers led to the setting up of a Ministerial Working Group to look at the viability of the aged care and disability support sectors and workforce issues. Its report was published in February 2005.

This did not immediately turn on the money tap and the Salvation Army, Presbyterian Support Eastern and the St John of God Group decided to sell their rest homes and hospitals to large corporates.

Workforce union activity continued around pay levels with a union proposal to the Government in April 2005 to grant premium funding for aged residential care providers who agreed to higher minimum pay rates and minimum caregiver qualifications. A big rally was held outside parliament on budget day 2006 of SFWU and NZNO members expressing anger at the targeted 51 cents an hour increase for aged care workers in the budget.

The Health Workforce Advisory Committee, set up by the Minister of Health to provide advice on health workforce issues, was also becoming actively involved in the care and support workforce and made recommendations to the Minister in October 2006 for funding to sector providers to be contingent on the providers having a training and development package in place with competencies linked to the NZ Qualifications Framework.

Low Paid Workers’ Initiative

It looked like the stars were aligning when the District Health Boards, with the support of the Minister of Health, agreed on a funding increase for the aged care sector by way of a “Low Paid Workers’ Initiative”. In May 2007 extra government funding was offered to the residential aged care sector (and eventually to disability support and home support) with a directive that providers were obligated to pass through an increase in the hourly rate of at least $1.30 an hour and use all reasonable endeavours to conclude collective agreements (as a way of transparent delivery of the pay rates).

Following opposition from the employer groups the hourly rate increase was reduced to $1.00 an hour with a minimum caregiver pay rate of $12.55 an hour, at that point $1.05 an hour above the minimum wage. The Government indicated that this would be stage one of further improvements in caregiver wage rates.

While a majority of providers initially signed up to the District Health Board funding agreement, following advice from their representative body Health Providers NZ (HPNZ) they did not implement the agreement and supported HPNZ in persuading the High Court that the contract was unlawful on various grounds, including the provision related to collective bargaining.

Although the High Court decision was a blow to union efforts to get targeted money and mechanisms to improve caregiver wage rates, some of the comments in the judgement were supportive of our underlying approach.

“Better pay and industrial power through collective agreements could – I do not say would – lead to a more satisfied and stable workforce with a flow-on effect for ARC residents. Better the experienced and motivated carer than the inexperienced and resentful so far as ARC health is concerned. It is possible to say that better wages and – though more debatably – better union organisation within provider workforces – would promote better care of the aged”.

The unions continued to campaign around the pass-on of the funding following the court decision, including initiating collective bargaining with over 200 aged care employers, who didn’t have collective agreements in place, for a national multi-employer collective agreement. Although this strategy, called “Winning as One”, met stiff resistance from the national provider bodies the unions estimated that 50% of the aged care residential providers covering 70% of the sector workforce passed on the full $1.00 an hour and the $12.55 an hour minimum pay rate, 45% of the providers covering 28% of the sector workforce passed on between 50-85 cents an hour and about 2% of the workforce received no increase.

Just before the 2008 General Election a Parliamentary Social Service Select Committee Report was released calling for major increases to support worker wage rates, just days after a 10,000 signature petition was presented to parliament from the unions calling for the implementation of an Aged Care Charter that included better pay for caregivers, minimum qualification levels and mandatory minimum staffing levels.

This was quickly followed by an announcement by the Minister of Health David Cunliffe of a $20 million funding package to immediately lift caregiver wages, allow better access to qualifications and an Aged Residential Care Workforce Action Group, made up of sector stakeholders including unions. They delivered two reports on how to address wage parity with District Health Boards, the implementation of minimum mandatory qualifications for all caregivers and the phasing in of minimum staffing levels.

With the Clark Labour-led Coalition Government losing the election in 2008 the Cunliffe proposals were abandoned and the unions looked for new points of leverage to gain higher wages for care and support workers.

Examining Leverage Strategies

Since about 2003 the SFWU had been claiming the minimum wage for members required to be on-call during the night in employer-controlled community homes for people with intellectual disability. The employers’ standard response had been that government funding was not sufficient to pay the union’s claim. It was time to look for new forms of leverage.

In 2009, the union decided on a new approach and issued proceedings on behalf of support worker Philip Dickson in the Employment Relations Authority against IDEA Services Limited, in what became known as the sleepover litigation. This did not affect workers in aged residential care directly as sleepovers are not worked in this sector with only isolated exceptions. However, it focussed attention on the plight of the low paid support workers in the disability sector, of whom 75% are women.

The unions (SFWU was joined by the PSA) prevailed in this litigation, which in essence came to an end with a judgement issued by the Court of Appeal on 16 February 2011. The result was an industry-wide settlement agreement between the unions and the Crown, leading to the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Act 2011, passed unanimously in Parliament later that year.

The process around the settlement of this claim was important for the later equal pay settlement. It was accepted by the Crown that the unions represented all sector workers, whether union members or not, that any agreement would have to be ratified by sector workers, and that any settlement would be the subject of parliamentary legislation to stop any further litigation from individuals who wanted to get more than was contained in the settlement.

While the Minister of Health Tony Ryall had publicly suggested that the Government may change the law to override the court decisions, the joint SFWU/PSA campaign “Up Where We Belong”, which involved petitions, meetings and invitations to all Members of Parliament to work for two hours alongside of them (which many MPs took up) had built up the public and political support to take that option off the agenda and make a settlement inevitable. The approximate 4000 individual support worker cases filed in the Employment Relations Authority in pursuit of the minimum wage for sleepovers also persuaded the Government that a settlement was a better option rather than going to war with these workers.

Collective bargaining was increasingly perceived as an ineffective basis for addressing poverty wages of aged care residential workers. In 2011/12 there was an eight-month dispute with New Zealand’s then largest aged care residential provider Oceania, which involved strike action taken by SFWU and NZNO members in 42 of its 59 facilities.

The dispute though was not about wage parity with District Health Boards but was merely to get Oceania to pass on the 3% funding increase it had received from the District Health Boards. While this dispute was successful there was a realisation from the unions that a different approach was needed, and the union began to pay greater or at least more focussed attention to the gendered basis of the low wages in question.

The SFWU and its legal team, fresh from the sleepover settlement, considered whether a legal case in the aged residential care sector could be used as leverage to get the government funder into direct negotiations around the caregiver wage rates.

There had already been a great deal of research into the undervaluation of female-dominant workforces and there had been recent cases in Australia that gave cause for hope. There was also an important report Caring Counts published by the Human Rights Commission following an inquiry under section 5(2)(h) of the Human Rights Act 1993.

The Caring Counts report, released in May 2012, made some important observations and recommendations. Of particular importance to the union were the observations and conclusions contained within the report regarding the comparatively low wages for care workers compared to other occupations. The Human Rights Commissioner concluded that there was a substantial argument in favour of at least ensuring that pay parity should be achieved between care workers outside the District Health Boards and those who were employed inside the DHBs. The Commissioner noted the number of submissions made to the Inquiry that cited other roles including those in occupations or industries where men were dominant that were paid more than care workers and were, in effect, less skilled.

The Caring Counts report also included detailed financial modelling around the cost of achieving pay parity and contained a legal opinion that the non-payment of home support workers for the time taken travelling between clients was in breach of the Minimum Wage Act.

Filing of the Equal Pay Case

On 13 September 2012 the SFWU filed proceedings in the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of long-time caregiver Kristine Bartlett, employed on an individual agreement at an aged care residential facility owned by Terranova Homes and Care Limited in the Hutt Valley. At the same time, the SFWU filed proceedings in the Employment Court on its own behalf.

Terranova sought the Bartlett proceedings to be struck out on the basis that the claim was frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of process. This application failed, and the case was removed to the Employment Court, which agreed to tackle the case one part at a time. The first question to be asked was whether section 3(1)(b) of the Equal Pay Act 1972 allowed workers in female predominant workforces to look outside of their workplace or industry to decide what a male worker would be paid “with the same, or substantially the similar, skills, responsibility, and service performing the work under the same, or substantially similar, conditions and with the same, or substantially the similar, degrees of effort.”

While the Employment Court was preparing to hear the Bartlett and SFWU cases, a helpful dispute broke out on a different front with both the PSA and SFWU filing cases in the Employment Relations Authority (the SFWU case was subsequently withdrawn) in pursuit of the minimum wage for home support workers travelling between clients.

 The speed with which the Government moved to negotiate a settlement of this claim with the two unions was another win for the unions’ leverage strategy. By September 2014 the Government had announced a $30 million investment in payment for the minimum wage and for an increase in the home support workers’ mileage allowance and had agreed to a process whereby casualisation of the workforce would be addressed.

In October 2014 the Court of Appeal delivered its decision on the Bartlett and SFWU v Terranova case with a resounding victory for the unions.

While Terranova sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal judgement, this action failed. The next step was to return to the Employment Court to set the principles for the implementation of equal pay for Kristine Bartlett.

The Government, through the Minister of Finance Bill English, was quick off the mark. He approached the SFWU about negotiating a settlement in the same way as the sleepover and in-between travel settlements had been negotiated.

Meetings took place between the unions (SFWU, PSA, NZNO and NZCTU) and Doug Martin, the Crown-appointed negotiator. The Cabinet-approved negotiating mandate was announced in October 2015, covering all care and support workers in the disability and aged care sectors, not just residential aged care workers. The announcement also set up a broader Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles to “recommend principles to Government that provide practical guidance to employers and employees in implementing pay equity”.

The mandate envisaged that the care and support negotiations would be completed by March 2016 and any settlement would be funded to commence on 1 July 2016. The Government’s primary purpose was set out in its negotiating mandate.

“Resolve through negotiations, pay rates and address pay and associated workforce issues (related to pay) for the care and support workforce in aged and disability residential care and aged and disability home and community support services; and as a consequence, settle all claims lodged under the Equal Pay Act 1972, including the TerraNova case”.

The negotiations between the unions and the Crown were relatively simple from the union perspective – gain a new set of wage rates that substantially lifted the pay rates in the sector, embed in a qualifications regime that we had been pursuing for 20 years, and increase our organisational capacity.

Our biggest point of leverage was the threat of the Employment Court setting its own principles and high equal pay rates and back pay for the 6000 individual care and support workers who had and continued to file equal pay claims in the Employment Relations Authority.

As the negotiations dragged on beyond 31 March 2016 the SFWU (now E tū) applied to the Employment Court to set down a hearing date. The Court agreed to do so despite the Terranova objections, although noted that it was aware of the work of the Joint Working Party on Pay Equity Principles that had already been completed and given to the Government.

The Court would spring to life at various times during the next six months to issue minutes or convene directions conferences, but by the time it was ready to act in early 2017 the substantive negotiations had been completed giving the largest pay increases that care and support workers had ever experienced and embedding in a system of qualification attainment supported by the employer.

Conclusion

The passing of the Care and Support Workers Pay Equity (Settlement) Act in 2017 was due to decades of activity by aged care residential workers, who organised in their worksites, organised in their communities, took strike action, marched on parliament, presented parliamentary petitions and built a favourable public picture of the value of the care of older people.

However, there may have been no conclusion to the argument about their pay rates and those of  workers in home support and disability support without the union leverage strategy by way of the Courts. The Courts had breathed new life into the Equal Pay Act 1972, restored an arbitration right that was lost in 1984 and given the unions the power to negotiate, rather than simply accept what the powerful were prepared to offer. The nearly two years of negotiation of the care and support equal pay settlement, although frustratingly slow for some people at the time, was a mere blip in the 40 years of previous struggle.

The unions did not agree that this settlement was the end of the struggle for the proper valuation of the work of care and support workers, but they did acknowledge that it was a big step forward, which has subsequently flowed on to thousands of other low-paid New Zealand women workers.

As Katherine Ravenswood has pointed out, the care and support settlement has not come without further challenges for the workers in terms of workloads, the right to gain qualifications and higher pay rates and the implementation of guaranteed hours.

One of my favourite quotes from departed UK Labour MP Tony Benn is “there is no final victory as there is no final defeat” in the struggle for justice. Sometimes progress will be made, such as aged care residential workers did in the 1980s, and sometimes big steps backwards will be taken, such as in the 1990s, and then further progress again with the 2017 settlement.

The issues that have arisen from the care and support settlement will provide plenty of organising challenges for a new generation of care and support workers.

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