Category: Aged care

Care and support workers deliver thousands of messages to Government pleading for better pay

After rallying around Aotearoa for a better pay offer, care and support workers and their unions are delivering their messages to Parliament in a petition signed by thousands in just 10 days.

They will hand over the petition, which has more than 10,000 signatures, on Tuesday afternoon.

Workers in the care and support sector are strongly pushing back on the Government’s current pay offer of around 70 cents more per hour for an 18-month period, which would start after legislation setting their pay and conditions expires on 30 June.

With negotiations set to conclude this week, workers are desperate for a resolution and want to see a sustainable future for their sector.

Union delegate and care worker Kiranjeet says working conditions are already poor: “I see people coming into our sector and leaving in days because the work is exhausting, high pressured.

“We are understaffed, and the pay is too low. Who would sign up to do this work for $21.84 an hour?”

Sector providers are fully behind their staff and launched the petition jointly with care unions to draw attention to what was going on.

The issue has also struck a chord with the community too, with many petition signers leaving personal messages of support for care workers.

“I want to support the support workers who make it possible for my elderly father, who has Alzheimer’s, to live independently,” Marion writes. “I am so grateful for the care my father receives, and I am appalled at the low rates of pay these ‘angels on the ground’ receive.

“They are so well trained, capable, and genuinely caring. I have learnt a lot from them. With my heartfelt thanks. We are incredibly fortunate to have them.”


With the time running out to secure an agreement, workers want to see the Government present a fair pay offer by the end of the week.

Care and support workers will present their petition to Labour MP Ibrahim Omer outside Parliament on Tuesday 24 May at 2.30pm.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Kirsty McCully (E tū director), 027 204 6354
Melissa Woolley (PSA assistant national secretary), 027 441 8230

Rob Zorn (NZNO communications advisor), 027 431 2617

Pay negotiations for care and support workers set up to fail

Unions representing care and support workers, E tū, NZNO, and PSA, have entered discussions with the Government to improve pay rates and lock in existing training rights for 65,000 care and support workers.

The historic 2017 Care and Support Workers Settlement raised wages for care and support workers. But the settlement expires at the end of June and workers need new pay rates to be agreed, so the value of the settlement is maintained.

Workers will lodge a claim under the updated Equal Pay Act once they are legally able to do so but need a pay rise while work happens on the claim, which is estimated to take around 18 months.

The Government’s offer of approximately 2.5-3% amounts to less than half of the current rate of inflation and would apply for 18 months while the work is being conducted.

This amounts to a significant pay cut for workers and is inadequate. It leaves this predominantly female workforce with a difficult choice: leave for a better paid, less stressful job elsewhere, or keep supporting vulnerable people in our communities while facing soaring living costs they cannot keep up with.

Care and support unions say an extension to the settlement with increased pay rates to keep pace with inflation is essential, giving time to work through a full pay equity process. This is needed to avoid further erosion of the already tough conditions care and support workers face.

Union members say their sector is in crisis, with employers struggling to staff shifts to care for our most vulnerable.

Short staffing, low pay, and poor working conditions have led to care and support workers struggling to provide the quality of care their residents and clients need, with many workers choosing to simply leave the sector altogether.

The unions urge the Government to provide the adequate funding needed to value these workers properly.

ENDS

For more information and comment:

Kirsty McCully (E tū director), 027 204 6354, [email protected]
Lesley Harry (NZNO industrial adviser), 027 499 0778,
[email protected]
Liz Robinson (PSA communications), 027 281 6173, [email protected]

Urgent need for PPE for care and support workers

Care and support workers are in urgent need of PPE to keep their vulnerable clients safe.

These workers, some of whom visit more than 10 clients a day to care for them in their homes, say despite being essential health workers, they’re struggling to get enough PPE and supplies to work safely even in phase three of the Omicron outbreak, and their employers say they don’t have the stocks needed to make this possible.

E tū and PSA unions are calling for full PPE kits and RAT tests to be consistently supplied to care and support workers who look after vulnerable people in the community.

E tū member Tarsh Dixon says going from house to house without full PPE puts workers and clients at risk.

“In phase two, we barely had aprons – some workers had none – and only low-grade gloves and masks. We aren’t even given enough aprons to protect our clothing from the usual bodily spills and keep safe from other infections, let alone protect us from Omicron.”

Tarsh says workers are “incredibly frustrated and burnt out” by the situation.

“We work hard in the community to keep clients in their own homes and out of hospitals. These are the same hospitals that are filling up with Covid cases and are under increasing pressure.

“We need a supply of proper, full PPE and RATs, enough for a couple of weeks, couriered out to all workers so we can test at home to make sure we’re still ok to go to work.

“We’ve run out of time to keep emailing our providers and MPs, begging for full PPE to protect us.”

E tū Director Kirsty McCully says the care in the community that this group of workers provides is essential, not optional care.

“It’s things like showering and toileting, wound care, and monitoring medication – essential in making sure people get their basic needs met each day.”

She says the requirements to receive full PPE are flawed, as workers don’t have access to it when clients are isolating or when support workers notice symptoms, only once they’ve tested positive for Covid. But by then, it’s too late.

“This method of eligibility and distribution puts workers at risk because it’s simply too slow. We believe all support workers should have access to all appropriate PPE including N95s for each client at this stage of the outbreak.”

PSA assistant national secretary, Melissa Woolley asks the Ministry of Health to immediately supply workers with N95 masks, face shields, nitrile gloves, and other PPE to stop Covid-19 spreading to their clients.

“Currently, workers are caring for a mix of people with Covid-19 and those without. They need to keep themselves safe so they can continue to provide these essential services and they must ensure they are not the cause of an outbreak.

“Workers also need extra time in their rosters to safely don and doff their PPE and pick up supplies.”

Currently, workers are only provided with one week’s supply of minimal PPE – which needs to be continually reordered – with some workers being required to drive to collect it, unpaid and in their own time.

E tū and PSA have written to health ministers outlining a host of issues workers face, including slow and limited PPE rollout, not having access to full PPE and N95 masks unless a client is confirmed positive, and no reliable supply of RAT tests.

“Government direction on these matters to providers and the Ministry of Health is needed urgently,” Ms Woolley says.

“The employers in the sector have advised us of ongoing issues getting access to PPE in a timely way. Their requests are not fully filled which leaves workers at risk or client care cancelled.” 

ENDS

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

Fifth strike for rest home workers over proposed cuts to pay and hours despite staffing shortage

Tension is growing at a Northland town’s only rest home, as union members prepare to strike again with management refusing to back down on plans to cut weekend rates and making fresh proposals to reduce hours for some, despite bringing in unvaccinated workers when the home was short staffed.

E tū members working at the Claud Switzer Memorial Trust rest home in Kaitaia have been in negotiations for a new collective agreement since March.

However, the trust refuses to remove problematic clawbacks, including a proposal to reduce weekend allowance rates from $5 extra per hour to $12 for a whole shift, which for some would mean losing thousands from their annual income.

Several E tū members are now also facing a possible reduction in their overall hours. However, in the past fortnight, the employer brought in unvaccinated workers under exemption to fill staffing shortages – a move members say neither they nor the residents were notified about.

An E tū member, who doesn’t wish to be named, says morale at work is at an all-time low and the situation is getting worse.

“Members are unhappy – the whole picture is unhappy. This has just been ongoing and ongoing and ongoing. The collective needs to be sorted and it needs to be signed.

“We also want to see our hours secured. It’s ridiculous and makes no sense why they would suggest cuts to workers’ hours when we are so short staffed already.”

The member says they are also seriously concerned about the lack of training and supervision for new staff.

Annie Tothill, E tū spokesperson and organiser at the site, says she believes the current situation could have been avoided, had the trust offered a fair settlement of the members’ collective agreement.

“Staff turnover is already high, and when workers feel disrespected and undervalued, it inevitably affects their commitment and desire to stay.

“That’s why fair conditions and pay are so important to retain safe levels of staffing and quality care for residents.

“In our view, it defies all logic and morality to propose a reduction in some members’ hours, when the management claims there is a staffing shortage and was prepared to risk having staff who are not vaccinated caring for vulnerable and elderly residents.”

Annie says strike action was not a decision that was taken lightly, nor without regard for the vulnerable residents that E tū members care for.

“They feel this is their only option to defend their current terms and allowances. It’s a last resort.”

Members would welcome a meeting with the board of Claud Switzer Memorial Trust to raise their concerns, resolve the current impasse, and come to a fair agreement on the members’ collective agreement, she says.

E tū members are also calling on the community to support them: “We need them to back us up and tell the rest home to sort this out.”

E tū members will be striking outside Claud Switzer Memorial Trust rest home, 71 South Road, Kaitaia on Thursday 16 December and Friday 17 December from 7am to 9am.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

Aged care workers: Safe staffing must be mandatory in 2022

Workers at aged care home and hospitals across Aotearoa New Zealand will take action at their workplaces and at Parliament this December in the fight to win mandatory safe staffing.

On 9 December, union members from E tū and NZNO, supported by national seniors network, Grey Power, plan to present a parliamentary petition and an open letter with almost 7000 signatures, calling for safe staffing levels to become mandatory across the sector.

Current staffing guidelines are voluntary only, implemented at the discretion of each aged care provider. They are also woefully outdated, having been drawn up nearly 20 years ago in 2005.

E tū Community Support Services Industry Council Convenor and aged care worker Marianne Bishop says workers feel incredibly stretched and frustrated due to low staffing numbers, and they aren’t able to provide the level of care they’d like – an issue that has only been compounded during the Covid crisis.

“We want to be able to provide quality care and have quality time with residents. It’s not enough to just ‘do what we have time to do’.

“We hate not being able to answer bells quickly and not being able to check on residents more regularly, because sometimes when we do get there, it’s too late,” she says.

“If we were an older person or not able to do things for ourselves, how would we feel – having to wait half an hour, or an hour? If that was a member of our whānau, how would we feel?”

Marianne says to win safe staffing, aged care workers need the support of the whole country.

Grey Power President Jan Pentecost says that the organisation is 100% behind the push for safe staffing.

“We absolutely support aged care workers in their fight to win mandatory safe staffing, quite simply because many of our members and their families rely on staffing levels to be safe.

“But for that to happen, there needs to be mandatory standards in place.”

E tū spokesperson Jody Anderson says aged care workers and unions want to see a law setting down the minimum staffing levels that an aged care home or hospital must have in place.

“Our members and the residents they care for simply cannot wait any longer for this. They have been asking and campaigning for this protective legislation for more than a decade,” she says.

“In the meantime, the care they are being asked to provide gets more complex as workers are treating residents with higher needs, all with the same number of staff – a number that’s often all too low as worker shortages and lack of staffing laws bite.”

“We need everyone – aged care workers, their whānau, the family members of those in care homes, and our communities – to join together to send a strong, clear message to our Government: we need safe staffing and we need it now.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Jody Anderson, 027 204 6370

Rest home strike continues: “Our employer’s not listening”

Workers at the sole rest home in a rural Northland town are striking again over proposed pay cuts to their allowances and other problematic clauses in their new collective agreement.

Members at Claud Switzer Rest Home in Kaitaia have been in negotiations since May, and in desperation for their employer to listen, have started taking strike action.

The employer wants to cut or reduce members’ allowances and other benefits, notably reducing pay for weekend work, removing workers’ job security with a force majeure clause, and other changes to their conditions of employment.

Management also circulated documents to workers that threaten possible redundancies and a decrease in the number of beds, due to an implied lack of building and refurbishment funds if workers don’t accept the new collective agreement. 

Longtime worker at Claud Switzer and E tū member Kam Wijohn, who only works weekends so she can care for her grandchildren during the week, says workers at the home are feeling angry and unhappy about the situation.

“We feel that our employer isn’t listening to how we’re feeling,” she says.

“We have mortgages, we’re trying to pay for our own homes. To have that cut in pay would be really hard – we rely on that pay.”

Kam estimates that she’d potentially be losing thousands from her pay per year if her weekend allowance is eventually reduced from an extra $5 per hour to just $12 for the whole shift.

“My husband is on minimum wage. That’s why we compromise – he works during the week while I care for the grandkids, and I work the weekends.”

Kam says she’s also worried about another clause which would potentially give the employer the right to terminate workers on medical grounds, without necessarily providing time to recover or for a plan to return to work.

Residents are also aware of what’s going on for workers, she says.

“The workers are unhappy, and the residents are unhappy that we’re unhappy.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the proposed agreement will only exacerbate the short staffing situation in the home and increase turnover.

“Staff turnover is already increasing, rosters issued are full of gaps, and staff levels on the weekends are becoming unsafe. Staff morale is very low,” she says.

“In our view, the employer will spend more money in recruiting and training new staff than what they may save reducing allowances.”

Annie says the employer has not acted well during the negotiation process, including shifting the goalposts by going back on their word to make additions that hadn’t been previously discussed.

Members will continue to take action until they reach a fair agreement, she says.

“The members at Claud Switzer are very committed to their residents and genuinely care for the people they look after,” she says.

“The positive support and response they’ve received from the community only reinforce their commitment to stand together for decent pay and conditions, which are so badly needed in the aged care sector.”

E tū members will be striking on Saturday 30 October from 8am-10am outside Claude Switzer Rest Home, 71 South Road, Kaitaia.

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

Care workers deserve decent work too – #CAREday21

This Friday 29 October marks a global day of action for investment and decent work in care – #CAREday21. As the world continues to navigate the health and socioeconomic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of care workers – the majority of whom are women – continue to provide essential services in the most challenging of circumstances.

Decades of underinvestment, further exposed by the pandemic, has affected the accessibility, and safety of health and care services worldwide. Now is the time to stimulate sustainable economic and jobs growth in the care sector, as these are the green jobs of the future, with increasing numbers of people needing quality care and support as our population ages.

But to ensure the public has can access this, it is essential that there is investment to create decent and fair working conditions for our care workforces. 

Consider Tara, a community support worker who goes from home to home supporting over 65s, or those with long term medical conditions or disabilities. Tara is a solo mum of three school-aged children, and manages her time around parenting responsibilities, trying to work enough hours to keep a roof over their heads, pay the mortgage, and manage before and after school care.

Tara’s hours change from week to week as her guaranteed hours of work are kept low – for her, this means only 21 hours of work guaranteed per week even though she’d like more. Tara relies on additional child support payments coming in, otherwise it would be hard for her to survive week to week and cover the bills. When her employer needs Tara to do more hours, she is called in at short notice, but Tara is never given the certainty of those hours.

With petrol and car costs going up all the time, the equation becomes incredibly hard, and when you add on top of that the fact that community support workers often have no input into the way clients are cared for, Tara says it can be hard to feel good about the job.

Precariousness in the care sector is nothing new. Precariousness for women is certainly nothing new. Job security, regular hours and consistent entitlements are, arguably, an aberration of the post-Second World War period, enjoyed primarily by male – mostly white – workers in wealthier economies.

For women, stability and security has often been tied to a marital relationship. Insecure work remains racialised and gendered, with disproportionate impacts on women and people of colour. In New Zealand, women homecare workers had to take legal action even to be considered workers (Cashman v Central Regional Health Authority [1997]).

Successful litigation by unions ensures care workers are now paid for most of their work time, including travel between clients in the community, or for sleepovers. Previously care workers were paid only an allowance for being ‘on call’ when they were really at work. Most successful has been the Care and Support Pay Equity Settlement, which resulted in care workers achieving some of the biggest pay rises of their lives – it was ‘life changing’, as the instigator of the legal action and subsequent New Zealander of the Year, Kristine Bartlett, put it.

Yet the shifting of cost and risk to working people, alongside their declining share of employers’ profits, is perhaps most pointed in the case of the emerging ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, in which online platforms like Uber are used to connect individual workers to individual consumers. 

Platforms for care, such as MyCare, operate in New Zealand, and arrangements which allow the market to determine the rates for care work, and ultimately the regulation of it, could threaten the improvements made by care workers and their unions over the past decade. It’s one of the reasons drivers and their unions have taken a legal case against Uber to prove, as others have globally, that in fact, they are the employer of drivers.

Reforms to the health system in New Zealand are positive and well overdue, but at the forefront, investing in the 150,000 workers in community settings, including Kaupapa Māori, home and community support, and other essential residential care settings is key. Care workers in New Zealand ultimately are the care provided to our loved ones, and investment in their ongoing training and continued ability to do the job should be paramount.

This means ensuring the value of the pay equity settlement is maintained when it expires in June 2022. It means ensuring gig, contracting, and other individualised models of employment do not take over to unravel the positive and world-leading steps New Zealand has taken to train, regulate, and to think of care workers as real people. It means continuing the reforms – only partially completed – and which were recommended back in 2012 in the Caring Counts Report to create safe staffing levels in our residential care facilities.

Real people, like Tara, who cannot survive on hours that change every week or two, or without security of income, or in an environment where the psychosocial harm associated with the job is as real as the harassment she may face as an individualised worker in a private home.

Community care workers had to fight for their own safety during the initial Covid lockdown when initial PPE guidance suggested masks and gloves weren’t needed when going from home to home every day delivering personal care, despite public guidance that everyone should avoid visiting their elderly family and friends lest they be placed at risk. 

Workers had to keep standing up and taking action to win improvements throughout the pandemic. Just this past week, workers at Kaitaia’s only rest home – Claude Switzer – have gone on strike to try to win back their weekend rates and other benefits they stand to lose if they accept the terms their employer is proposing in a new collective agreement.

Care workers will continue to stand up in order to protect the wellbeing not only of those they care for, but also, for once, for themselves. But they shouldn’t have to do this alone. Let’s all stand beside them and call for investment in care and meet the demand to create the post-Covid care system our elders, vulnerable, and carers need.

Kirsty McCully is a health director at E tū.

Rest home workers strike: we can’t afford to lose pay or staff

Union members at a Northland rest home, who are desperate to avoid potentially losing pay and staff with proposed cuts to their pay and other collective rights, went on strike for an hour on Thursday.

Claud Switzer Memorial Trust, which runs the only rest home in Kaitaia, has proposed scrapping special pay allowances for health care assistants and domestic staff working weekend shifts, along with other benefits, as part of a new collective agreement.

Workers are currently being paid an additional $5 per hour to work on a weekend, and the employer wants to reduce this to just $12 extra in total for any weekend shift.

Other proposed changes include reducing penalty rates for overtime work, qualification allowances, and removing job security with a force majeure clause.

In a poster issued by management, the trust claims the future for the home is grim if workers don’t accept the new agreement – with around 20 residents needing to be moved and a 20% cut in staff due to lack of funds for a new building and upgrades.

E tū delegates say workers are struggling financially already without pay cuts and worry about the future.

“Our members are getting stressed out – they’re very unhappy,” says one.

“The weekend incentive rate management is trying to take away was the reason everyone was coming to work at that time – it was already a struggle to fill the weekend.”

Short staffing is already a huge issue in the aged care sector, and finding staff presents even more of a challenge during the Covid crisis, delegates say.

“We’re anticipating some change already with mandatory vaccinations coming in and having to take precautions – like wearing masks at work all day with summer coming – makes work more difficult for everyone.”

Delegates emphasise that the one-hour strike is a last resort to get management to listen.

“We all love our jobs – the hardest thing for us to do is to walk out. We’re walking out on human beings, not toilets and floors. It’s very disheartening for us.”

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says members have been bargaining since May and in mediation since August, in an effort to secure a fair collective agreement.

She estimates that without the weekend allowances, those workers working weekends as part of their 40 hour-week may miss out on up to $3,000 extra per year.

“There are quite a few workers who incorporate a Saturday or Sunday shift into their weeks – and some people only work weekends because of childcare responsibilities.”

The current $5 per hour is a reward for working unsociable hours, she says.

“The employer has said it can’t afford to pay workers the allowance and claims it pays more than other rest homes in the area,” Annie says.

“However, they won’t tell us which rest homes they’re referring to. From our own research across New Zealand rest homes, it would appear $5 per hour is average for workers who are working weekends as part of their normal 40-hour week.”

Annie says the employer is also trying to justify its position, claiming it needs the funds for building work and upgrades – or workers face losing residents and colleagues.

“Workers at Claud Switzer deserve to be fairly compensated for the work they do and to see their hard-won working rights upheld as they care for the most vulnerable in our communities.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934