Disability support workers picketed IDEA Services on Thursday morning while calling for better working conditions.
Cars passing the New Plymouth branch offered honks of support as 40 E Tu union members held up signs calling for better health and safety and job security.
In Hawera, 40 staff gathered in the town square and marched, waving placards, to the Idea Services office in Princes St.
E Tu delegate Pina Simeon said the organised one-hour nationwide strike was a protest against the sluggish progress for a new collective agreement for disability service workers fearing job loss, in addition to increasing risks within the work place.
“Staff are losing hours and that’s resulting in unsafe staff ratios,” she said. “Is this about equal pay? We don’t know.”
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E Tu representatives began to bargain for the new agreement in October 2016, about the same time the union started to push for equal pay, Simeon said.
“There’s a process of ‘service reviews’ and every review, at least one hour is cut,” she said.
“It’s been happening for two-plus years now. But, they say it’s just their ‘scheduling policy’.
“There is a risk to people’s safety when each time a service review is done, people’s hours are cut or they lose their jobs, which places more duties on to existing staff,”
E Tu delegate for South Taranaki, Karen Leatham, said.
“We’ve got service users assaulting other service users and service users assaulting staff. “
In her seven years with IDEA Services she had been through five reviews, she said. The health and safety issue affected the staff as well as the service users.
“Staff are stressed and overburdened with their workloads and feeling very undervalued. Job security and health and safety, they’re the biggies,” she said. “It’s great the equal pay has come through, but there’s no point in equal pay if you don’t have a job.”
E Tu organiser Sue Carter said the slashed hours could leave workers alone to handle the complex needs of a number of patients and members are asking for improved health and safety worker participation.
“Health and safety recommend one representative to 19 workers,” she said.
“But in Taranaki, we’re getting three representatives for a rough estimate of 400 workers.”
Union representatives had voiced concerns that IDEA Services, the operational arm of IHC New Zealand, provided little support to its employees.
The decision to strike was partly linked by disability support providers’ planned service cuts, which was announced March 23, and would affect about five per cent of staff.
IDEA had been given prior notice of the one-hour work disruption and are expected to “meet back at the table” on May 5.
Simeon said a two-hour picket was planned for May 11 if an agreement has not been made.
E Tu Industry Co-ordinator Alastair Duncan said the union worked for seven months to persuade IDEA to respond to the concerns of its 3000 members, but had only received silence.
“IDEA is prone to cutting hours of its staff and is now going through a major restructure,” he said.
“Staff are right to be concerned about their jobs and the impact on the people they support.”
Duncan said workers were due a pay rise last October and last week’s news of the possible equal pay settlement “further focussed the lack of any pay offer from IDEA”.
“We asked for a small down payment back in October and have had a resounding ‘no offer’ ever since,” he said.
“The equal pay settlement will change lives but that is still months away and the needs are now.”
Government and unions had yet to reach a pay equity settlement within the disability sector, which had been reason for a delayed response, IHC New Zealand human resources general manager Ross Maden said.
He said further work was still required to determine the details of pay equity and the level of funding providers would receive once settled.