By NZNO president Grant Brookes
Last week I was proud to be one of a delegation of 16 NZNO members and staff who attended the Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference. We all had responsibilities; from running workshops to researching remits and presenting reports.
It was my job to address the remit “That unions intensify our campaigning against insecure work including seeking outcomes through collective bargaining and legislative change”.
NZNO voted in favour of this remit and here’s why.
We see the health impact of insecure and precarious work every day of our professional lives. We see it affecting our patients and some of us experience it ourselves.
- When we don’t know how long a job will last,
- when we don’t have any control over when we work, or for how long,
- when our pay is low or fluctuates,
- when there’s no chance to upskill,
- when there’s no union representation,
- when there’s no protection against discrimination and
- when things are unfair and we know we could lose our job without good reason –
That’s insecure work
The World Health Organisation says, “The global dominance of precarious work, with its associated insecurities, has contributed significantly to poor health and health inequities.”
If you were asked to imagine a person in precarious work in New Zealand today, chances are you’ll think of someone like a young McDonalds worker on a zero hours contract. Sadly, precarious and insecure work is widespread.
The aged care sector is another area where rising work insecurity is an issue.
In August, a residential aged care provider in Christchurch tried to change the roster so that no one was guaranteed more than 28 hours a week, with no fixed shifts.
Here are some of the messages NZNO members sent to the manager about what the proposal would mean for them and the residents they care for.
“I feel very stressed and extremely worried about my future, because of this roster change. This clearly means I will lose my working hours, and a rotating roster will make it difficult to catch up with friends because you don’t know one month or two months earlier what your schedule will look like. A big worry for me is I may not be able to pay all my expenses – rent, food, petrol etc. The only option is to pick up shifts, but there is no guarantee for everybody.”
“The proposal will not give me enough hours per week, which makes it really hard for me to pay off my bills. I am on a work visa at the moment. I need a full-time job to renew my visa, not a part-time job. As it is unsure when is my day off, it makes it hard for me to make plans for my family events.”
“Staff will be forced to leave if the changes occur, as management’s proposal will affect each staff member’s earnings. They can easily hire new staff, but the service which the old staff rendered to our beloved people will be affected, as new staff will need to do a lot to know more about the old people’s routine.”
“The company has a policy of ‘person-centred care’. It’s a great shame that this does not extend to its staff. I feel like a cog in the wheel of the machine, just a name on a roster to fill a slot, not a valued, 15-year experienced employee.”
Insecure work is also coming to District Health Boards.
The West Coast District Health Board is currently consulting on a proposal that will affect all nursing staff. If it goes ahead, the proposal could require any member of the nursing team to work in any service, in any role, no matter their specialty or the distance they might need to travel to get there – and don’t forget how big the West Coast is! Nurses could be travelling for hours.
Meanwhile, the three Lower North Island DHBs want to hire nursing staff to work across DHB boundaries. This could see nurses employed by one DHB directed to work in a neighbouring DHB. That’s a really insecure place of work!
The good news is that the roster changes at the Christchurch facility were withdrawn, thanks to the union member’s submissions. Proposals for staff to work across DHB boundaries in the Lower North Island are still under discussion with NZNO and the PSA, and have not been implemented. And we remain optimistic that working in partnership with West Coast DHB will see nurses retaining security around their employment there.
Where unions are present in a workplace, we can often reverse trends towards insecure work.
But the reality is that people in the most precarious employment, who experience the greatest health effects from insecure work, are outside the coverage of collective bargaining and union organising,
So if unions are to campaign against insecure work, which is contributing significantly to poor health and health inequities, the emphasis will have to be on seeking outcomes through legislative change.
This is where NZNO can – and will – join together with our sisters and brothers in the wider union movement to make positive change for all.