20 Aug 2021

'Do the right thing' union says, after workers report reduced pay or annual leave requests

2:50 pm on 20 August 2021

Workers should not have to bear the financial brunt of the Covid-19 lockdown, New Zealand's largest private sector union says.

Court workers in Wellington were among 2000 staff who went on strike for two hours on Wednesday for higher pay and better conditions.

Workers cannot actively protest under lockdown but some are being asked to bear the financial brunt of the lockdown, the union E tū says (file picture). Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Some workers have claimed they have had their pay reduced despite employers being supported by the government's wage subsidy.

Employers can apply for the government's wage subsidy from today.

E tū organiser Yvette Taylor said the union is also hearing from members in similar situations being asked to take leave to get their full pay.

"It is unacceptable that, through no fault of their own, some workers are having to bear the financial brunt of the lockdown.

"For someone on low pay, not being paid their full wages causes a financial crisis, because there's no money to spare week to week.

"A cut in pay means not being able to pay rents, keep the lights on, and pay for essentials for kids. Sometimes it also means taking on high interest debt just to get by."

Taylor said employers need to value the work their staff are doing - many of whom, she adds will be providing essential services as soon as the country is out of alert level 4.

She said employers must "do the right thing".

"As soon as the alert levels drop, many other essential workers will be expected to be straight back to work - workers like cleaners who will expected to give everything a deep clean, so the rest of us feel safe going back to public spaces.

"We should be valuing this work by ensuring they are paid 100 percent, not just turning the tap off and on during alert level changes."

The union said the situation was similar during the March 2020 lockdown and other elevated alert level periods.

Yvette Taylor.

Yvette Taylor said she has heard from union members being asked to take leave to get their full pay during lockdown. Photo: Supplied/E tū

No guarantee on full wages - cleaner

E tū delegate Josephine Wiredu is a cleaner at Auckland City Council and normally works around 55 hours a week.

Wiredu was among colleagues sent home from work on Tuesday night as the country prepared to go into lockdown.

She said they were told not to come in during alert level 4.

But Wiredu said they do not yet have any guarantees about whether they will receive their full wages during this time.

Wiredu, who is paid at the Living Wage rate, said any drop in income would be a "big blow".

"Our employer only paid the 80 percent last year during the second lockdown as they were no longer eligible for the wage subsidy. But they paid this from their own pocket," she said.

"They have applied for the wage subsidy again now, but we don't know what will happen yet. At the same time, we still need to pay our bills no matter what, so the decision will affect our families."

Another delegate and cleaner, who does not wish to be named and works at the council for a different contractor, said workers are fully entitled to be paid 100 percent of their wages.

"Nobody knew that lockdown would be happening again, and we don't know how long it's going to last. Lockdown doesn't stop our rent or power money going out.

"We signed a contract with our employer, they must keep to it."

The cleaner, who usually worked more than 60 hours a week, said she was forced to use savings when her income during lockdown last year dropped to around 70 percent of her usual pay.

She does not know how her pay will be affected this time, but in her role as a supervisor, she has already had to refuse a request from management asking her to get colleagues to sign a form agreeing to use their annual leave during this lockdown.

E tū has more than 50,000 members across the country.

Lifewise employees are striking for the terms in their first ever collective agreement.

Lifewise employees striking last year for the terms in their first ever collective agreement (file picture). Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

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