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Control vs power

People powerAmendments to the Employment Relations Act are due to come into law on 6 March next year.

Over the last year many of us have been trying to stop the changes. Thousand of nurses, midwives, caregivers and kaimahi hauora made submissions to the Select Committee considering the amendments – and NZNO is really proud that every single one of those submissions were written by members, no tick-box form submissions for us!

Thousands of us protested, attended rallies, participated in the “Give us a break” workplace actions, talked to our families and friends about the issues, used social media and much more. We did it to stand up for decent working rights for nurses, health workers and the rights of all workers in Aotearoa.

The Government didn’t listen.

This legislation gives employers the right to remove tea breaks, withdraw from collective bargaining, trample on new employees rights to equitable working conditions with their colleagues and to refuse to collectively bargain with other employers

But one thing the legislation doesn’t do is give employers power – what it’s giving them is control.

It’s control of the ugliest kind. The kind of control that can legally demand employees work with no breaks or strip loyal staff of paid hours of work and pit employees against one another.

What we have is power! Power is about strength, sharing that strength with others and growing stronger as a result. It’s about standing beside our colleagues, our whānau, and our community so we all have the strength to stand together for what is right and just.

As a fledgling union in the 1990s when the Employment Contracts Act was introduced – our members and other union members lost significant pay and conditions.

Over the last decade and a half we have demonstrated what real power is.

We have worked together to rebuild national and multi-employer collective agreements.

We took up the fight for pay equity through the Fair Pay campaign.

We supported settlements that extended fair pay across the primary health, aged care and private hospital sectors.

We stand with Kristine Bartlett and the Service and Food Workers Union Ngā Ringa Tota in support of pay equity for caregivers.

Our engagement and participation builds real power – our strength in standing together can’t be taken away by the stroke of a pen or the drying ink on legislation.

Governments may make laws that give employers more control; but we hold the power – people power!

 


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Together we can win; for ourselves and our patients

IMG_1527A message from NZNO industrial adviser for the DHB sector Lesley Harry.

“Meetings are underway at all DHBS to endorse the recommended issues for negotiations as well as the negotiating team and ratification procedure. We know achieving your key issues will not be easy because the DHB’s bargaining parameter is not enough to deliver on your key issues. Please participate in the endorsement meetings and activities and support a decent outcome for all of us.

Together we need to convince the Government to fund DHBs adequately so you are better able to provide quality care for your patients as well as receive a decent pay increase.”

Grant Brookes is an NZNO delegate at Capital and Coast DHB and member of the negotiating team for the 2015 MECA bargaining. He talks about his experience attending several endorsement meetings.

NZNO members working in the DHB Sector are now over half way through a nationwide series of meetings on our Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA).

Next month, we’ll start negotiations for a new MECA. These will not only shape the working lives of more than 25,000 nurses, midwives and other health workers, the negotiations will also influence the quality of care provided by the public health system.

Last week I went to six of the MECA meetings across a couple of DHBs, and not just to vote (only once, of course!) on the issues for negotiation, on the makeup of our negotiating team and on the ratification process we’ll use to accept a settlement.

As a member of the proposed negotiating team, I also attended to get a feel for members’ issues in person, so I could better represent them.

The main issues for negotiation proposed at the meetings are:

  • Wages
  • Safe staffing and healthy workplaces: Care Capacity Demand Management (CCDM)
  • Sick leave
  • Fairness at work
  • Professional development and PDRP/QLP allowances and
  • Outstanding issues from the previous MECA negotiations

Although we will be negotiating with DHB representatives, all of these issues are ultimately influenced by Government.

Towards the end of each of the meetings I attended, the presenters read out the following statement:

Today we have set out the issues that are deeply and widely felt by members as well as highlighted the under-funding of health and nature of recent wage increases in the DHB sector. The financial parameter for 2015 bargaining is almost certainly going to be insufficient to address all of your issues. We anticipate negotiations will not be easy and delivering an acceptable outcome will require all of us working together and likely will need to involve our communities to achieve your goals”.

In other words, we will probably have to convince the Government to increase funding for the DHBs. How successful we are will depend above all on how deeply members believe that our goals are fair and reasonable, and how many people actively participate in our campaign.

Already, many thousands have taken part by filling out and returning the MECA issues survey – an impressive number, especially considering it was the very first campaign activity.

Momentum appears to be building. Signs so far suggest that the current round of MECA meetings have had high turnouts. Discussion of the DHB MECA campaign by delegates at the NZNO AGM last month revealed a strong determination.

Common themes have emerged in discussions at the half dozen meetings I’ve attended. There is a sense that nurses have fallen behind. There also seems to be a feeling that we exercised restraint in MECA bargaining in 2010 and 2012, in response to the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake, and that now it’s time for health to take a higher priority.

If you’re an NZNO member working in a District Health Board and you haven’t been to a meeting yet, get along to one this week. The details of upcoming meetings in your area are at http://www.nzno.org.nz/dhb.

There you can show your support, like the Wellington Hospital members in the photo, for this solidarity statement:

“Together we can win more pay in our pockets, decent professional development opportunities and safe staffing to ensure quality care for our patients”.

 

 


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Value our elders by valuing us

2014-10-01 Day of the older person FB picToday is International Day of the Older Person; a day to celebrate the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and tackle the barriers faced by older people.

American politician Hubert H. Humphrey was paraphrasing Ghandi when he said “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

He’s right. And there’s plenty that NZNO members might want to say about that (check out NZNO’s priorities for health here), but let’s have a look at how we value our older citizens today.

The government approach to care of older people in Aotearoa is ageist. By under-funding this sector, the government is signaling that older people don’t matter. And by extension, neither do the workers who care for them. Staff in residential aged care facilities are some of the lowest paid workers in New Zealand, and successive governments, for over 20 years, have allowed that to continue.

In one of our many submissions to government we put it this way:

The high cost of providing substandard aged care is unsustainable and unjust: public health resources are unaccounted for; where there is a failure of care it is public health which ‘picks up the tag’ for care it has already paid for; services are being contracted out for care of our parents and grandparents with even less protection for their physical and mental wellbeing than for their financial wellbeing; public safety and our professional health workforce are being undermined: and an underclass of undervalued and underpaid workers is being embedded in our workforce while highly educated workers are leaving.”

That’s not valuing our elders or the people who care for them. We are failing to provide sufficient protection for the health, welfare and financial stability of either older people or those who work with them.

So, how do we change things? How can we show older people the respect and dignity they deserve?

Well, one way of doing that would be to value the people who care for them, and there’s a few ways of getting there…

Increase government funding to residential aged care providers; it’s just plain unfair that health care assistants and caregivers who work in aged care facilities get nowhere near as much as their colleagues who work in DHBs. The Government also needs to make sure that funding is passed on to workers, not retained as private sector profits.

A quality, nationwide training and education programme would achieve two things: consistently provided quality care for residents and a career pathway that would attract and retain great staff.

Regulate for safe staffing! Our members want to provide quality care, but at the same time as residents care needs increase, our members face continuous cuts to care hours. How can workers enjoy their work when they are stressed, overworkerd and worried about missing something and making a mistake? There must be enough staff to provide quality care for every resident.

None of this is rocket science, and none of it is news to the sector or the government. All that’s needed now is action! Action to value older New Zealanders and the people who care for them.

Our elders should be valued and celebrated. The workers who are carrying out the responsible and skilled work of caring for our elders should be valued, celebrated, admired and supported for their important work too.

 


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NZ women – voters since 1893

Nurses  – awesome since forever

Black and White Training PhotoYesterday one of our NZNO organisers, Georgia Choveaux visited an inspirational 92 year old retired nurse about voting in her 25th general election.

Cog, as she prefers to be known, is as committed to voting now as she was in her very first election in 1943. She trained to become a nurse during the second world war because she wanted to do her bit and had always liked helping people. She still remembers her salary – 3 pound five and six a month and she says with pride, “Nurses were worth every one of those pennies!”.

At 92 Cog is still voting because she wants to see  changes in the system – and to retain her right to complain. She is very certain you can’t complain if you don’t vote. She explains it is a lot easier for young ones these days to know which way to vote for what is important to them. Back when she became a voter  there was no television so you had to really try hard to keep up.

Cog has kept up with what is going on in the lead up to the 2014 General Election and has worked out who has earned her votes this election. She has changed who she votes for over the years – and given others a try – some times for better or worse in her opinion. Yet, she would never consider not voting. It is too important for her as someone who has always liked helping people.

So, hats off to the many generations of nurses, carers, patient advocates, health champions, kaimahi hauora and professionals for looking after the health of Aotearoa by being voters. Where would we be without you?


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Make aged care count

Along with many NZNO and SFWU members, senior NZNO delegate and activist Grant Brookes  attended the second Caring Counts summit in Wellington last week. Here are his thoughts about progress to date and possibilities for the future.

Slow progress and a determination to keep pressing ahead were the two themes which emerged at the Pre-Election Summit of the Caring Counts Coalition, held in Wellington last week.

The Coalition was formed to promote the recommendations for aged care in the Caring Counts report, published by the Human Rights Commission in 2012. The Coalition includes NZNO and the Service & Food Workers Union Ngā Ringa Tota (SFWU), along with government officials, community groups, aged care providers and their industry umbrella group, the Aged Care Association.

I was there to show the support of the NZNO National Delegates Committee for the DHB Sector.

The venue was St Andrew’s Church. Opening the Summit, SFWU aged care spokesperson Alastair Duncan said it was appropriate it was being held in a place associated with miracles. “The miracle is that the Coalition has continued”, he joked.

The Summit was held as Kristine Bartlett’s historic case for Pay Equity in aged care winds its way through the courts, supported by NZNO and SFWU but opposed by Terranova Homes and the Aged Care Association. This case has attracted much media attention, including feature stories on Campbell Live.

Of the ten recommendations in the Caring Counts report, Summit participants heard that progress has been made towards the goal that “all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years”.

The number of staff achieving Level 2 qualifications has doubled since 2012, from 6,000 to 12,000 people a year. The Careerforce Industry Training Organisation has a goal of 30,000 staff enrolled by the end of 2016.

But it was acknowledged this still wouldn’t be enough to maintain the proportion of qualified staff, assuming staff turnover of 20 percent each year. Actual turnover is probably higher.

Progress on other key recommendations around pay and safe staffing, however, is even slower.

No significant movement has been made towards “pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities”.

And there is no sign that the voluntary standards, including minimum staffing ratios, will “become compulsory to ensure the protection of both carers and older people”.

Kristine Bartlett captured the essence of the day when she said, “Every day we delay respect for the carers is a day less respect for the men and women in care.”

She also talked about her case, now before the Court of Appeal.

“Earlier this year the Service Workers and the Nurses Union made a video talking about the equal pay case and the need for other women to join the case”, she said.

“Five months later nearly 3000 women have filled out authorities to join. So if we made another video and got everyone together you wouldn’t see me. I’d be one of thousands, which is of course who I have been all along.”

Kristine also shared her own “scorecard”, about how aged care is progressing towards some other Caring Counts goals.

“Leadership. This is the one directed at the Prime Minister. Of all the recommendations, it was probably the easiest to enact and the one that could have sent the strongest message about government intentions.

“Putting the Minister with responsibilities for older persons into the top ten cabinet positions would have been politically smart and easy to do.

“Instead what did we see from the government? Having ensured the Ministry of Health was not in the Employment Court they then sought to intervene at the Court of Appeal – opposing the Employment Court decision.

“Not that I expect them to be listening to either my union or NZNO, but having been told by the Aged Care Association that the sector needed five or even six percent to stand still they funded a miserable one percent.

“Invited to attend the Careerforce conference earlier this year, the Government didn’t turn up and prevented Ministry of Health officials from attending.

“The only real leadership we’ve seen from this government in aged care has been in the wrong direction”.

Kristine concluded by reminding us of the upcoming general election.

After morning tea, participants broke into groups and came up with questions for the politicians who were joining the Summit after lunch.

Labour’s associate health spokesperson, Iain Lees-Galloway, said “the time for debating the merits of the recommendations is past. The time for implementing them is now.”

He said a Labour led government would provide enough funding to cover inflation and population growth, year on year.

Green health spokesperson Kevin Hague pledged to make DHBs pass on all the aged care funding increases to the sector.

“But the industry must also pass through the funding they receive”, he added. In 2006-7, employers took the DHBs to court to avoid paying government-funded wage increases. He said that even in the depth of the Global Financial Crisis, the government had enough money to fully fund health, but chose to spend it instead on tax cuts and Roads of National Significance.

NZ First health spokesperson Barbara Stewart said, “In 2012, the government said they would do something about aged care when they’re back in surplus. They’re in surplus now, and in the latest Budget we saw absolutely nothing for aged care.”

The National Party was also invited, but did not attend.

Summing up the day Dr Jackie Blue, EEO Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, commended the Caring Counts Coalition partners for their ongoing commitment to aged care.

An abridged version of this article is appearing in the August issue of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand


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The long road to justice at Capital and Coast DHB

leave entitlementCapital and Coast DHB (CCDHB) delegate Erin Kennedy talks about a workplace situation where holding the DHB to account has taken years. The hard work and perseverance of delegates and organisers has finally paid off.

After several years of work by NZNO organisers and delegates at CCDHB, members whose shift leave was not calculated correctly look set to finally get the leave they are due. Staff affected worked alternative rosters (10 and 12 hour shifts). CCDHB has reviewed records of affected staff from 1 January 2007 to 1 January 2013 to determine which staff are owed leave, with ICU used as a pilot group.

Previously, all shift leave was credited based on shift count under clause 13.2 of the MECA. However, clause 6.19 of the MECA, which covers alternative rosters, states that on completion of one year on alternative rosters, employees should receive one week of shift leave in place of the provisions set out in clause 13.2.

While delegates and organisers are pleased that, at least in one directorate, the end is in sight for this project, we still have some concerns. The first is that a number of staff who have left CCDHB have not been able to be contacted.

If you worked alternative shifts at CCDHB during the time covered, please contact CCDHB to ensure you receive any leave due (gary.waghorn@ccdhb.org.nz). If you know someone who has left CCDHB and who may be covered, send this on to them. Although NZNO does not normally support cashing in of leave, on this occasion the cashing in of leave is supported, as staffing in some areas prevents any extra leave being taken.

Our second concern relates to members who may have had leave over-calculated.  Letters set to go out from the DHB ask those staff to sign a form agreeing to pay back any overpayment, either in a lump sum or as salary deductions.  Our view is that the Wages Protection Act kicks in here, and our advice to those staff is not to agree to any repayments without union advice. That advice regarding alleged overpayments also applies to other staff who have recently been asked to repay money which CCDHB claims to have overpaid, including senior nurses on the PDRP. If this applies to you, contact a delegate immediately.

NB: The ICU project which involves correcting miscalculated “adjust to normal” pays is a separate one, which will hopefully soon be concluded and staff paid out.  Again, if you worked at Wellington Hospital’s ICU and think you may have been affected by this, please contact CCDHB.

You can read the multi-employer collective agreement that covers NZNO members and DHBs here (it’s a pdf).


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Update on the Caring Counts report recommendations

FinalReport2012_web_Page_001David Wait is NZNO’s industrial adviser for the aged care sector. This week he attended the Careerforce and Health Workforce New Zealand Workforce Development conference. Here are a few of his thoughts on the first day.

A highlight of the first day of the conference was a presentation by Dr Judy McGregor. Dr McGregor was the Human Rights Commissioner who investigated the aged care sector and wrote the report “Caring counts: Report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce”.  The report set out a number of recommendations, particularly around mandatory staffing levels, pay and mandatory training.

Since the report was published a coalition of unions, employers and national leaders and decision-makers in the aged care sector has been formed to advance the recommendations. One summit has been held and another is planned for later this year.

Here’s what Dr McGregor had to say about progress on the recommendations.

Pay parity – not achieved.

The Caring Counts report recommended that the Minister of Health directs District Health Boards (DHBs) to develop a mechanism to achieve pay parity between health care assistants working in DHBs and carers working in home support and residential facilities. And that DHBs and residential care and home support providers implement pay parity for carers across the government-funded health sector within three years.

Pay parity has not been achieved, although Dr McGregor states that there is momentum with the equal pay case, being led by Kristine Bartlett. The case is complex and may go all the way to the Supreme Court.  Regardless of what happens in the courts the issue is not that we cannot afford equal pay, but that we cannot afford discrimination.

(I enjoyed Dr McGregor’s idea to have Kristine Bartlett feature on our next new bank note!)

Training – partly achieved.

The report recommends providers in the aged care sector and the ITO (Careerforce) commit to ensuring all new staff achieve a Level 2 Foundation Skills qualification within six months of starting and that all existing staff achieve this qualification in the next two years. Within five years, Level 3 should become the normal level of qualification for all staff with 18 months service or more.

At the first Caring Counts summit, Careerforce announced it would incentivise training with payments to providers, since then there has been increase to training of approximately 68% and the number of people completing training has also risen.

Consumer information – some progress to date.

The recommendation is that a five star system of quality assurance comparing residential facilities, with the aim of improving consumer choice and public accountability, is developed and adopted for use in New Zealand by the Ministry of Health and DHBs with input from the Auditor-General (A-G).

Full audits have been made publicly available with 2500 downloads and 6500 visits to the site. However, audits do not include follow up on how issues identified in audits have been addressed. You can find the audits here:https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support/health-care-services/services-older-people/rest-home-certification-and-audits/rest-home-audits-full-reports. Importantly, the public availability of these audits is a trail. We will watch with interest to see whether the Ministry of Health continues its commitment to transparency.

Staffing

The “Indicators for safe aged and dementia care” was not discussed. The other recommendation was achieved. What we know is that staffing is often far from adequate, with care hour reviews frequently showing staffing levels lower than those set out by the standards document. We also know that these standards are out of date and that the acuity of residents has increased, requiring higher staffing levels than were needed in 2004.

Valuing carers

The recommendation is that the Human Rights Commission hosts a stakeholder summit with government agencies, peak bodies, providers, Age Concern and Grey Power, trade unions and community groups to enhance sector cooperation and to promote and celebrate the paid aged care workforce.

We have a way to go yet. It is particularly important to get more money into the pay packets of carers.

The Caring counts report says,

“The reliance of New Zealand, of all of us, on the emotional umbilical cord between women working as carers and the older people they care for at $13-14 an hour is a form of modern day slavery. It exploits the goodwill of women, it is a knowing exploitation. We can claim neither ignorance nor amnesia.”

Dr McGregor reiterated how important it is for everybody involved in the aged care sector to work together to find a solution.

It is really good to hear that there has been progress made on the recommendations and that Dr McGregor is still a passionate advocate for the cause. We are equally pleased that Jackie Blue, who has taken on the role of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, is similarly committed to Caring Counts. We look forward to working with her on this issue.

Dr McGregor said she still receives heartfelt letters from families, thanking her for her work to improve conditions for workers in the aged care sector. And she told a story that really illustrates how important this work is for all New Zealanders.

There have only been three times that the phone lines have jammed at the Human Rights Commission during her time. The first was in response to something Hone Harawira said, the second time was in response to something Paul Henry said, and the third time was a massive outpouring of hope and support for the Caring counts report and the potential it has to achieve justice in an undervalued workforce.

That about sums it up for me! Together, we will reach our goal.

You can find the report here: http://www.hrc.co.nz/eeo/caring-counts-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-aged-care-workforce/

And the full list of recommendations here: http://www.hrc.co.nz/eeo/caring-counts-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-aged-care-workforce/caring-counts-recommendations/

 


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Teuila deserves more

Aged careTeuila (not her real name) arrives at work early for every shift. The tasks she performs during her shift are as varied as the residents she works with. She assists our elders in all their everyday routines as well as going the extra mile – sometimes dispensing medications, sometimes catheterising a resident, sometimes bearing the brunt of violence and aggression from a resident with dementia.

Not everyone can do a job like Teuila’s. It is a highly skilled and demanding role, with barely any recognition in the form of pay but much in the way of love and appreciation from the residents themselves.

When Teuila talks about the work she does, she talks about the pleasure she gains from helping an elderly person regain dignity and well-being, how great it is to build a relationship and see self esteem and quality of life maintained for a resident, how satisfying it is to be part of someone’s transition from anger and sadness to happiness and acceptance.

As a caregiver Teuila is amongst the lowest paid in the country and from April 1 this year, her job became a minimum wage job when the three largest aged care collective agreements in the country had their bottom step wiped out by an increase of the minimum wage to $14.25 an hour.

It is no accident that the most significant test of the equal pay legislation for many years has originated in aged care. You do not need to be a lawyer to see that the amazing people doing this work are being underpaid and exploited. You can work as a check out operator at a supermarket and be paid more.

What is really interesting is that after many years of crying poverty as a reason for not paying aged care workers more, but doing little about the situation, the Aged Care Association (ACA) and its members are standing up to a Government that has continued to significantly underfund the care of our elderly.

This week they refused to sign contracts with DHBs citing among other things, underfunding, and saying that the current funding levels were unrealistic to provide increases to hard working caregivers and maintain and improve the quality of life for those in care.

Such public action by members of the Aged Care Association is rare and if their figures are to be believed is a sign of the negative impact of continued Government underfunding.

What is disappointing is that the Aged Care Association has not asked the Government for funding increases to fairly pay aged care workers, but solely focussed on their own immediate costs and expect aged care to remain a minimum wage job.

The problem is that the ACA wants an increase in funding of 7.6 percent – but there is no way they are going to pass that 7.6 percent onto our members. They made it very clear that there would be no pay increases offered this year. Perhaps we would feel the love more if they asked for more funding, and for it to be earmarked for staff pay rises, retention and development.

Teuila deserves more – and so do the thousands of caregivers who do the important work of looking after our grandparents and mums and dads.

(The photograph is of caregivers from Aranui Home during Caregivers Week 2014)