Category: General

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

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

Workers celebrate minimum wage increase

About a quarter of a million Kiwi workers will get a much-needed pay rise today, as the Government’s scheduled minimum wage increase comes into effect.

The minimum wage has gone up from $17.70 to $18.90 an hour, giving our lowest paid and often most vulnerable workers a little extra in their pocket through the COVID-19 crisis.

E tū member and cleaner at Otahuhu Police Station, Rose Kavapalu, is pleased with the Government’s decision to make the increase as planned.

“Thank you, Jacinda, and all of the Government for this increase that’s needed now more than ever,” Rose says.

“I am currently working 13 hours a day, Monday to Friday, to put food on the table for my family and pay the bills.

Rose says that her essential worker status demonstrates the importance of her job.

“Being an essential services worker at the police station, all of a sudden people realise how important your job is.

“I’d rather not be at work as I have many family commitments, but the police officers really need us to keep the place clean and free from COVID-19. So, I am happy to do the work, but honestly, I deserve more than the bare minimum.”

E tū member and security guard at an Auckland train station, Lavinia Kafoa, agrees with Rose that more is needed.

“We need more money because of the risky work that we do. We also need proper PPE, but we’re still waiting for that. The minimum wage increase is better than nothing, but we should be doing more for our frontline health and service workers,” Lavinia says.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that the minimum wage increase is more important now than ever.

“Low paid and vulnerable workers always bear the brunt of economic downturns like the one we are facing now,” Annie says.

“While it’s not much, the minimum wage increase will make a huge difference for hundreds of thousands of workers whose jobs and livelihoods are rapidly changing.”

ENDS

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

Minimum wage increases vital for over 250,000 workers

Tomorrow’s scheduled minimum wage increase is vital for the hundreds of thousands of minimum wage earners who are doing it tough through the COVID-19 global pandemic.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman says that while life is difficult for minimum wage workers at the best of times, the current economic conditions make things a lot worse.

“Far too often, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society bear the brunt of economic downturns,” Annie says.

“We know that low wage workers spend the largest chunk of their wages in the local economy. Keeping money in the pockets of our lowest paid will be vital for stimulating the economy as we go forward.”

Annie says that the minimum wage will help many of the people in essential industries and services.

“Many minimum wage workers are also on the COVID-19 frontlines, including in security and cleaning. These workers get up every day to make sure our communities are safe and healthy. Yet they are paid as low as they legally can be – it’s an injustice.

“A minimum wage increase tomorrow means it will be easier for these workers to keep food on the table and keep the heaters on through the pandemic. Surely there’s not much more important than protecting our frontline workers.”

Annie dismisses the claims from some groups that the minimum wage increase should be delayed.

“These are the same groups that argue against minimum wage increase in any weather. Their fears are always unfounded – their predicted economic outcomes never come to pass.

“New Zealanders will get through the COVID-19 crisis by sticking together and looking out for each other. Scheduled minimum wage increases are one part of that picture. While the minimum wage will still be short of the Living Wage, the increase is a hell of a lot better than nothing.”

ENDS

For more information or 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.

COVID-19: Useful info for E tū members

Dear E tū members,

As you all know, COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a serious developing situation in New Zealand and across the whole world. We know many of our members are facing uncertainty, especially in their jobs.

Your union is acting quickly to support you with the best information and advocacy possible.

E tū’s position

E tū is advocating for the health and safety of our members, and for our members to keep their incomes and leave entitlements if they need to self-isolate, have time to care for dependents, or are sick themselves with COVID-19.

This means that you shouldn’t have to go to work if you are sick or if you are in danger of transmitting or catching COVID-19.

This also means you should get paid when you need to be away from work because of COVID-19, including when you are in self-isolation as directed by the Government or health officials.

Our first call is for employers to use their own resources to make this possible. We also recognise that the pandemic is huge, and that there is a strong role for Government to invest in our wellbeing and in our futures.

Now it the time to talk with your fellow union members at work about how you will respond to the pandemic at your workplace. Our voices will need to be heard at all levels of decision-making.

The Government package

The Government has released the first step in their emergency package to help workers and the economy through the pandemic. It is only a first step, but we welcome the support for all working people, whether they are employees, contractors, or casual workers.

What this means specifically for your job and industry will become clearer in the coming days and weeks. Click here to read our statement about the announcement today.

E tū will update you in the coming days. Remember you can call E tū Support on 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466).

General guidance from MBIE

  • If an employer requires an employee not to come to a workplace, workers should be paid. Paid sick leave (and anticipated sick leave) may be used if the person is sick or needs to care for a sick dependent. If paid sick leave is not available, special paid leave should be considered. Other forms of paid leave can be used by agreement between the employer and the employee.
  • If an employee, who has been advised to self-isolate under Ministry of Health guidelines for COVID-19, can’t practicably work from home, then special paid leave should be considered. Other forms of paid leave can be considered (such as paid sick leave) and used by agreement between the employer and the employee.
  • Your employer has a responsibility to manage the health risks to workers and other people affected in the workplace and treat employees in good faith. They should plan ahead and work with workers and unions for likely scenarios of COVID-19.
  • If workers are sick with COVID-19 or have been advised to self-isolate under Ministry of Health guidelines for COVID-19, your employer must act in a way to contain COVID-19 and protect public health.
  • Workers cannot be allowed or required to come to workplace when they are sick with COVID-19 or if they have been advised to self-isolate under public health guidelines for COVID-19. If employers allow this, they are likely to be in breach of their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
  • Employers might explore whether working from home is practicable during the self-isolation period. In that case, workers should be paid normally.
  • Contractor pay and leave is not covered by this guidance. Employers and contractors can agree to any payment arrangements they wish to.

COVID-19 package “A strong start”

E tū is welcoming the Government’s first phase of the financial stimulus package.

E tū Assistant National Secretary Rachel Mackintosh says that the announcement is a strong start and will help some workers deal with the stress that COVID-19 (coronavirus) is causing in their work lives and beyond.

“We have now been assured that the Government is taking an appropriate leadership role in protecting New Zealand workers, businesses, and communities,” Rachel says.

“We particularly welcome the aspects of the package that support all working people, whether they are employees, contractors, or casual workers.

“It’s very important to get this right, as the gig economy sees more and more workers without the protections that they need.”

However, Rachel acknowledges that many E tū members will need further assurance that they will be looked after.

“The $100 million allocated for assisting with redeployment will be crucial for our members who are already facing redundancies. Redeployment needs to happen effectively, which means consolation with workers, unions, iwi, and the wider community.

“We eagerly anticipate the details of the package that will relate to certain E tū members, such as the over 5,000 E tū members at Air New Zealand. We urge Air New Zealand and other aviation employers to come to the party, as the Government has done.

“The Finance Minister has described the response as ‘swift, decisive, and compassionate’ which is exactly the right direction to be heading in.

“We will stay together in union and engage with the Government and employers to end up in the best possible position. This is the start of a very rocky road, and the voice of working people will be vital at every twist and turn.”

ENDS

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