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All the way for fairness, justice, value and equal pay

Film-Colour-160Yesterday the Government announced that on 1 April the minimum wage will increase by 50 cents to $14.75 an hour.

A 50 cent increase in the minimum wage is a shame on our whole society. As the Council of Trade Unions says, we are now in a situation where the minimum wage is also the maximum wage for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Workers in aged care, who are underpaid because the work they do is seen as “women’s work”, are being unfairly impacted by this poverty-wage. Caregiver roles are physically and emotionally exhausting with many caregivers going above and beyond what is required.

There is a huge injustice happening here. Aged care workers are bearing the brunt of unfair gender-based pay rates, and a Government minimum wage rate that seems designed to increase poverty and hardship.

Aged care workers are providing care to residents that is worth much, much more than they are getting paid. The residents benefit, the employers benefit and the workers don’t.

Oh, I am sure they are “valued” for what they do. Every time I hear a Government Minister or Rest home owner talking about the aged care workforce they talk about the incredibly important and valuable work aged care workers do. To their shame, it’s a value that is not being reciprocated with an appropriate pay rate.

NZNO and SFWU members have been working for justice for aged care workers and others in low-paid jobs for many years. We have negotiated collective agreement, lobbied successive Governments, and worked together with other groups and organisations who care deeply about fairness and equality, like we do.

A big leap forward in our struggle came at the end of last year when union member Kristine Bartlett won her equal pay court case. The next step is for the employment court to decide what the monetary value of equal pay is. When that happens we expect aged care workers around the country to benefit enormously.

We’re going All the way for equal pay and we’re going to win. This pathetic increase in the minimum wage won’t slow us down – every injustice just strengthens our resolve. Watch this space.

 

 


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$180,000 pay rise? Yes please!

money_graph_pointing_upYou’ll remember before Christmas NZNO started talks with DHBs about negotiating a new collective agreement.

Our negotiating team is well prepared with evidence of how overworked, under staffed and stressed our hospitals wards are, and how inadequate planning with too few staff has the potential for poor outcomes for patients.

None of this is news. It’s the reality of nursing in a sick health system, and the solutions are clear, available and achievable.

We’ve got evidence that shows when a hospital has the right skill mix of staff in the right place at the right time, providing the right care with the right resources, everyone wins. Patients receive better outcomes and nurses have satisfaction in providing better and more timely care.

We all know that when you’re treated respectfully at work and remunerated fairly, when you can take leave to rest and rejuvenate, when you’re able to actually take a day off when you’re sick – everyone benefits. And when I say everyone, I mean staff, patients, the hospital, the budget, the health system.

What is news, though, is hearing that most DHB chief executives received pay rises of between $10,000 and $180,000 (in some cases, pay increases of up to 45%) in the last financial year!*

It feels pretty demoralising to know how much DHB chiefs are valued and how little value is placed on their staff. NZNO members working in DHBs are expecting a paltry pay offer of 0.6 – 0.7%.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

I expect if we asked each DHB why their chief executive received such a large pay rise, they would have an answer down pat. And I suspect, if we asked them how much they think their staff is worth, we’d receive a heartfelt statement of gratitude for the wonderful work we do and a sob story about how they wish they could pay us what we deserve but….

Belonging to NZNO is a good way to start making a difference. If we want a different ending to this story, we are going to need to write it ourselves.

Our team will be heading back into negotiations soon. There are 10 of them. There are 48,000 of us!

If we work together, take the hard decisions when required, stand strong beside each other, and let the whole country know what we need and WHY – we’ll get the outcome we, and every patient we care for, deserves.

*Pay scales for DHB chief executives are set by the State Services Commission.


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A Living Wage

poster_2Kieran Monaghan is a primary health care nurse and NZNO member who works at Evolve Youth Service. Kieran is an activist for health and social justice. 

NZNO CEO Memo Musa adds an update from NZNO at the end of Kieran’s blog.

I was recently invited to attend a four-day training workshop on the organising strategies of the Living Wage campaign. The following is a report on my experience, and my reflections between the Living Wage, the Declaration of Alma-Ata and NZNO.

What is the Living Wage?

The principle of the Living Wage is simply that the labour a person provides is acknowledged by a wage that provides them with the ability to live with dignity and without poverty. The Living Wage differs from the idea of a minimum or poverty wage, which for any worker is inadequate, and may require a second or third job with accounts of people working 70-80+ hours a week, to meet the basic costs of provisions and living.

The Living Wage campaign in New Zealand is supported by over 200 unions, faith and community groups across the country. Commitments to proactively work on developing grassroots community connections to advocate for a Living Wage are currently being established. Following the hui, we have set up our own local hub in Newtown Wellington.

The current rate for the Living Wage is set at $18.80 an hour and is reviewed and adjusted annually.

Impact of the Living Wage in action.

At the hui we heard stories about the difficulty of life of low wages, including the impacts on education and health.  We also heard the success of nearly 500 workers employed at Wellington City Council, who had their pay rates increased by at least $4 an hour in response to the Living Wage campaign. The WCC parking wardens reported a significant reduction in the work hours needed to earn a sufficient amount to cover the basic costs of living. In addition many now have increased time at home with family. Other workers have reported that moving to the Living Wage has enabled them to dedicate more time on studying towards further qualifications to increase future employment opportunities, so the potential for a better life once again becomes a reality. This is in stark contrast to the workers’ previous experiences where these realities appeared almost impossible to access.

Connections from a nursing perspective

As advocates for health and continued well-being, I wonder if nursing could, and maybe should, stand at the front of this campaign in the spirit of partnership, protection, and participation? Health is much more than Health services. From a Primary Health perspective the ten points defined in the Declaration of Alma-Ata outline that providing the most equitable, affordable, accessible care, in a timely and culturally appropriate manner is critical to the health of both the individual and wider community. These foundational tenets of Primary Health Care are an essential part of a systemic strategy to reducing the widening health disparities we are currently witnessing.

In Aotearoa we are see growing inequalities and disparities in many areas:

  • Minimal low cost housing precipitates overcrowded living conditions, leading to increases in skin infections and rheumatic fever.
  • Healthy food options are significantly more expensive than inadequate options, negatively influencing diabetes and CVD outcomes.
  • Increased prescription charges impact on the ability to buy food and pay bills, the negotiation of budgeting for essentials can lead to less effective treatment for preventable and easily treated conditions.

Many of the illnesses we see in Primary Care, and the more expensive option of Emergency Departments presentations, are conditions of poverty and many are entirely avoidable. The now familiar term of the Working Poor represents many of these people. In February 2013 NZNO published a press release advocating for the Living Wage, stating “Poverty is the root cause of much ill health and inequality in this country. Those who are struggling to survive on incredibly low wages are also the people who face barriers to accessing health care, education and other social services when and where they need them.”.

NZNO is a member organisation of Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ. For NZNO to become an accredited  Living Wage employer, ensuring all employees, from the cleaners up, have access to a quality of living free from poverty, would send a strong statement of commitment to the Living Wage kaupapa.

What can we do together?

The implementation of a Living Wage is a strategic intervention that could have significant and long term positive benefits to the health and well being of family and whānau in Aotearoa New Zealand.

A number of primary health organisations have not only joined the Living Wage movement by signing up as member organisations, but have also become accredited Living Wage employers, paying all staff, including their cleaners, the Living Wage.

Here are some things that we can do as a nursing community:

  • Find out if our own workplaces support the Living Wage campaign and introduce them to the idea if it is new to them
  • Encourage health advocacy organisations to sign on as member organisations of the Living Wage movement
  • NZNO to become an accredited Living Wage organisation for all its employees, including contractors, so that it models a healthy standard of quality employment conditions by refusing to pay what amounts to a poverty wage.
  • Find out if there is a Living Wage campaign branch in your local area and offer to get involved and help spread the word.
  • Read more about the Living Wage campaign and share the stories with others.

It is inspiring to see unions such at the SFWU, CTU and EPMU among other accredited Living Wage employers and hopefully the NZNO soon will join with them to make a concrete contribution to reducing inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand.

NZNO update

NZNO is fully committed to the Living Wage campaign and as such has made a financial commitment to be a member of the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ and priority was first to ensure this support for the movement was up front and can be afforded. All staff employed by NZNO are paid above the Living Wage amount currently set at $18.80 per hour.

Contracted staff are not employees, however. So, before we seek Living Wage accredited employer status there are some formal processes and obligations that we have to work through to ensure it is the contracted staff who receive the Living Wage, not the owners of the businesses.

 


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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?