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Celebrating NZNO’s Living Wage journey

By NZNO president, Grant Brookes

Today we celebrate NZNO’s accreditation as a Living Wage employer. The announcement is confirmation from the Accreditation Advisory Board that NZNO has met all the criteria to wear this badge of honour.

The impact of today’s announcement won’t be felt by anyone directly employed by NZNO. They are already paid above the current Living Wage of $19.80 an hour.

But the decision to become an accredited Living Wage employer means all our contracted staff get this rate, too. So it will be felt by people like Yong, who cleans the NZNO National Office after hours.

Yong has told me that she works two cleaning jobs – both for minimum wage. She starts at a motel at 8.45am in the morning, and finishes at NZNO at 9pm at night.

Yong has now received her first pay at her new rate, and was so happy that she could buy better food at the supermarket, instead of the cheapest food. Her dream is that now she might be able to go home to China to visit her father, who she hasn’t seen in four years.

She wanted me to write this, she said, so everyone could understand how much NZNO’s decision  means.

It has been a long journey to reach this point, with plenty of debate and discussion along the way. So it’s fitting today to look back on how we got here, and pay tribute to the NZNO members who kept us moving forward.

It’s now over four years since the Living Wage was launched in Auckland, in May 2012. NZNO was one of the first organisations to sign up to the statement of principle:

“A living wage is the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of life. A living wage will enable workers to live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society. We call upon the Government, employers and society as a whole to strive for a living wage for all households as a necessary and important step in the reduction of poverty in New Zealand.”

Our support was based on our understanding – as nurses, midwives and healthcare workers – that poverty and inequality are a root cause of much ill health. Some of us, especially those in aged care, and Māori and Pasifika members, knew this from personal experience of low pay.

Back in 2012, economists calculated that the Living Wage needed to live with dignity and participate as an active citizen in society was $18.40 an hour.

In the DHB elections the following year, NZNO asked candidates to support the idea that all DHB staff should get at least the Living Wage, which by 2013 had been recalculated as an hourly rate of $18.80.

At this time, we were coming to understand that it wasn’t enough to just agree with the Living Wage in principle. We should also contribute to the organisation which was working to make it a reality. In August 2014 NZNO took its place alongside other organisations as a full member of Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ Incorporated.

What propelled us along was growing support for the Living Wage among NZNO members.

Using the Nursing Matters manifesto, we’d been calling on voters and politicians from all parties in the 2014 general election to see a Living Wage for all as fundamental to a fair and healthy society.

Those of us who attended the DHB MECA endorsement meetings in late 2014 then showed our support by voting overwhelmingly for a set of claims which included progress towards the Living Wage (which by then meant at least $19.25 an hour) for HCAs.

When we couldn’t get agreement on this from employers, members expressed their frustration and reaffirmed their belief in the Living Wage at DHB MECA ratification meetings around the country.

By 2015, awareness was growing further. If we were asking our health sector employers to pay a Living Wage, then NZNO needed to walk the talk and do it, as well. That awareness culminated in a vote at last year’s NZNO AGM. Delegates from across New Zealand decided, by a large margin of 85 percent to 15 percent, to set a deadline of today ­­- 1 July 2016 – for NZNO to become an accredited Living Wage employer.

There are also some NZNO members who deserve special mention, for helping our organisation to reach this goal.

They include people like Maire Christeller, a Primary Health Care nurse and workplace delegate, who has been involved in the Lower Hutt Living Wage Network since the beginning. She helped to spread the message to other NZNO delegates in the Hutt Valley, and has also lobbied for Hutt City Council to become a Living Wage employer.

Left-right: Maire Christeller and baby Iris, with HVDHB delegates Monica Murphy and Puawai Moore, at the Hutt Living Wage Network launch

Left-right: Maire Christeller and baby Iris, with HVDHB delegates Monica Murphy and Puawai Moore, at the Hutt Living Wage Network launch

Kathryn Fernando is a delegate at Capital & Coast DHB, who joined me on last year’s “Mop March” to Wellington City Council, aimed at extending the Living Wage to contracted council workers, like cleaners and security guards.

CCDHB delegate Kathryn Fernando (left), NZNO Organiser Danielle Davies (right) and I at the Living Wage “Mop March” for Wellington City Council contract cleaners

CCDHB delegate Kathryn Fernando (left), NZNO Organiser Danielle Davies (right) and I at the Living Wage “Mop March” for Wellington City Council contract cleaners

Litia Gibson works at Porirua Union and Community Health Service. She has led the nursing team’s support for their workplace paying the Living Wage (even if they aren’t accredited yet).

Litia Gibson works at Porirua Union and Community Health Service

Litia Gibson works at Porirua Union and Community Health Service

Kieran Monaghan is a Primary Health Care nurse and a leader of the Living Wage Movement in Wellington. It was his tireless efforts last year – presenting on the Living Wage at the NZNO Greater Wellington Regional Convention, getting the issue into Kai Tiaki, writing for NZNOBlog, and drafting the successful remit for the NZNO AGM setting a deadline for accreditation – which helped us take the final step.

Kieran Monaghan (left) and fellow Living Wage activist Naima Abdi at the “Mop March” for Wellington City Council contract cleaners

Kieran Monaghan (left) and fellow Living Wage activist Naima Abdi at the “Mop March” for Wellington City Council contract cleaners

 

As NZNO President, I have spoken of the need to strengthen union values within our organisation, as we continue to sharpen our professionalism – values like social justice, equity and solidarity.

By walking the talk on the Living Wage today, I believe we’re doing just that.


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A word from the Mayor of Wellington

Kilmarnock HouseI visited Kilmarnock Heights Rest Home during Caregiver’s Week last month to do my part to recognise the contribution of this work force. I met some wonderful people and enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with the carers, managers and union representatives. The delicious morning tea was very pleasant and made me glad I had biked there!

Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs there is. You have to be kind, compassionate and efficient all at the same time. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell the caregivers gathered at Kilmarnock in Wellington that I admired them, and appreciated the work they do. Their cultural diversity is a strength for the Capital.

Caregivers have the challenge of supporting our most vulnerable citizens when they are happy, sad, scared, angry or lonely. It is up to the staff to turn a Rest Home into a real home, and that is a huge responsibility.

Caregiving is a predominately female workforce, at 93 percent. The battle for wages that reflect the value of the job caregivers do is ongoing.

As I am sure you are all aware, the Wellington City Council supports the Living Wage. In 2013 Wellington City Council increased the wages of our lowest paid employees including parking wardens and lifeguards. This has made a significant difference to the lives of our staff and their families.

None of us can be 100 percent certain what the future holds for us or our family members. Let’s all show our appreciation and support of those in the caregiving industry.

Ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa.

Caregivers blog entry JR Mayor Wade-Brown

Celia Wade-Brown
Mayor of Wellington


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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.