'Density does the deal'.
|Subject:||Trade and professional associations (Negotiation, mediation and arbitration)|
|Publication:||Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032|
|Issue:||Date: Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 9|
|Product:||Product Code: 8620000 Professional Membership Assns NAICS Code: 81392 Professional Organizations SIC Code: 8621 Professional organizations|
|Organization:||Organization: New Zealand Nurses Organisation|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand|
NZNO and the Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU) have won a
significant victory in negotiations with Presbyterian Support Central
(PSC). The victory has come on the back of a multi-pronged approach,
including building membership density in PSC's 14 sites in
Taranaki, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Levin, Masterton and Wellington.
Bargaining began in late June but after five days, negotiations were going nowhere. NZNO industrial adviser and advocate in the PSC negotiations, Rob Haultain, said the bargaining environment was very negative. "There was a prevailing sense that PSC was union hostile and that was reflected in membership density of just over 50 percent."
To make matters worse, PSC negotiators had no authority to make decisions outside a very narrow framework. "They had no ability to really negotiate--that authority lay with the PSC Enliven general manager Nicola Turner and she wasn't at the negotiating table. That is a not consistent with good faith bargaining in my opinion," Haultain explained.
The unions' bargaining objectives going into the negotiations were to ensure PSC passed on to its workers the funding increase from district health boards it had received in the 2009/2010 year, which averaged out at 4.9 percent; to compress the nine-step caregiver pay scale, with its $1.57 difference between step one and step nine; and to secure a meaningful allowance for weekend work. Currently to secure any money for weekend work, PSC workers must work betweeen 40 and 96 weekend days a year, out of a possible 104, to get a maximum "bonus" of five days' pay.
But after five days of negotiations, PSC had made no offer on any of NZNO's/SFWU's objectives. "There were only two thing the employer made an offer on: the hourly rate and it was well short of our objectives; and increasing the caregiver pay scale to 11 steps. This was despite the fact PSC had signed a memorandum of understanding with us last year to work towards pay parity with DHB rates," Haultain said.
Registered nurses (RNs) employed by PSC needed a three percent pay increase to achieve parity with DHB colleagues. But in a somewhat bizarre move, PSC offered 20 of its 70 RNs a 13.6 percent pay rise, in an attempt to establish a senior RN position. It offered a five percent increase to another 30 nurses on the PSC's top RN step and a 3.1 percent increase to its remaining 20 RNs. It offered its 20 enrolled nurses a five percent increase and its caregivers, household and support staff a 3.1 percent increase, amounting to around 40 cents an hour.
"We explained that NZNO and SFWU had a commitment to addressing low pay. To give the lowest increase to the lowest paid workers does not fit with that commitment," Haultain said.
Rather than continue attempting to negotiate, members of both unions decided different tactics were required. A push to boost union membership--"density does the deal" is one of Haultain's mantras--yielded a 12 percent increase in eight weeks, with three sites at 100 percent. "People joined primarily because they were asked to. We gave delegates, all of whom were people of character, energy and commitment, information on how to deal with those who objected to joining the union. Delegates and union organisers Louana Williams (NZNO) and Sam Jones (SFWU) did a lot of recruitment visits at night and in weekends when recruitment is always more successful," Haultain said.
Two petitions were launched, one calling on PSC to "enliven" its workers' pay; the other from workers in other unions calling on PSC to "enliven" their workers' pay. Both have been signed by hundreds of people.
And the union advocates used Section 34 of the Employment Relations Act (ERA) to gain important information from PSC, including caregiver turnover rates, the rates of infectious illness per facility, and how much PSC spent on agency staff at weekends--close to $400,000 a year. "That money should have been in our members' pockets. When they heard that was how much was being spent on agency staff, they were furious," Haultain said.
Reluctance to take strike action
A two-hour paid slopwork meeting on Friday, September 25, was the culmination of the campaign to get Turner to attend mediation. More than 100 members took part, with pickets in six centres, including outside PSC's head office in Wellington. A letter outlining the unions' reluctance to take strike action at this point was presented to PSC as part of the protest action.
Haultain explained that under Section 26 of the ERA, unions are obliged to assist the employer to maintain essential services. "Because of PSC's attitude throughout the negotiations and the fact it had had plenty of notice to prepare for the stopwork meeting, members were very reluctant to do this but realised they had to. But if we take strike action, there is no such obligation and everyone would walk off the job. That would create a major crisis for PSC. We explained in the letter that members would not take strike action if PSC agreed to mediation, with Nicola Turner attending. PSC have agreed. It is a great victory and the result of an enormous amount of hard work and commitment by members," Haultain said.
Mediation was scheduled for October 12.
Report by co-editor Teresa O'Connor
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|