Home support workers employed by the Auckland-based provider, Lifewise, took to the picket line this week to strike for fairer hours, more sick leave, and improved terms of their collective agreement.
Before the Covid-19 lockdown, Lifewise is said to have agreed to terms and conditions for a collective agreement, including more bereavement leave, but workers claim the company went back on it, despite receiving full government funding during the shift in alert levels.
The majority of the workers are of Pasifika descent and have been on strike since 14 December in an attempt to get the organisation to listen to their concerns and to take action on what they say was agreed to.
Helen Taufa has been working for Lifewise for 11 years and she said she enjoyed building relationships with her clients.
"I help different clients and just the diversity of people I meet makes the job fun.
"I think it helps that I grew up with elderly people and so I naturally am comfortable and, in my element, when working with that group," she said.
Taufa explained that July 2019 was when the bargaining meetings began for the first collective agreement.
"Lifewise agreed to an extra three days of sick leave, bringing it from five days to eight days and then they agreed on increasing bereavement leave to a total of five days.
She said the employees were happy with the news.
"However, due to Covid-19 and the lockdown, in September the company decided to go back on their word due to financial difficulties they were going through.
"We were very annoyed, and they have been acting like it's not a big deal, but it is for us," Taufa said.
Home support workers have told RNZ Pacific that they were available to work 30-40 hours, yet they were only guaranteed only 10-15 hours.
"For some of them, it's a real struggle as they just can't survive financially as we have kids in schools and our basic needs. We're looking to leave the sector at a time when society needs home support workers the most.
"We need extra days for sick leave because in reality, it doesn't necessarily take one or two days to recover and we physically work closely with our clients who are vulnerable such as the elderly."
Taufa said her culture also needed to be taken into account.
"Being of Tongan descent, our funerals can go on for more than a week and so it's important for us to have enough bereavement leave in order to meet our cultural needs and mourn appropriately with our families."
Client representative Peter West said home support was a key service that had helped his elderly parents greatly.
"When my father had a stroke, he went into a private hospital for a while and he hated it - he just gave up the will to live," West said.
"We brought him home for Christmas a year ago and he never went back [to the hospital], because we saw he came alive again. It's because of the support of [Lifewise] people coming in and looking after their needs."
E tū Director, Kirsty McCully, said the issues Lifewise workers were bringing to the table were significant.
"Having enough hours to live on from week to week and enough sick leave to keep clients safe - these should be no less than basic rights for our essential workers.
"The things these workers are seeking, speak to the needs of support workers in this critical, but vastly undervalued, sector."
McCully said we all rely on our home support workforce to keep our growing numbers of elderly and vulnerable safe and well in their homes, rather than needing residential care or hospitalisation.
"It's better for our elderly, and it's better for society, but we need to ensure the workers can live on their incomes and are treated with respect."
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff agreed saying "it's pretty simple - Lifewise need to show some respect to the excellent homecare workers they employ."
Lifewise wrote to RNZ Pacific stating that "as Lifewise is liaising with E tū in good faith and due to the confidential matter of the discussions we are not in a position to make a comment at this stage."