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Vulnerable Worker Ends Up Winning Increased Wage

10 August 2005

'Vulnerable' Worker Assists In Worker Friendly Policies

Happy family: Carl, Sarah and Luke Skivington, of Brighton, looking forward to a bigger pay packet and a flash night out!

After two major setbacks in the past two years, a young Brighton couple is now enjoying the light at the end of what’s been a dark tunnel.

In 2003 Carl Skivington was sacked from his job at Woolworth’s Distribution Centre in Hornby, and then, under a loophole in trading laws exploited by parent company Progressive Enterprises, rehired the next day for the same job. The setback: his weekly take home pay dropped by a $100 a week. As well Carl and his wife, Sarah, lost their newborn son, Bradley.

But last December they had the ‘best-ever’ Christmas present when their son Luke was born, and as from September this year, Carl and his fellow workers get a pay increase of $3.23 an hour, with all workers at Christchurch distribution centres moving to a base rate of $15.32 an hour from next March. And the bosses have also agreed to give their workers a free cosy winter jacket to ward off those southern winds.

‘This pay rise is a huge relief,’ said Carl, ‘and this Christmas is going to be the best one we’ve ever had. When my pay increase happens I’ve promised to take Sarah out for dinner - for the first time since her 21st! It sure pays to stick with the union.’

It’s been a really tough time for the pair. When Carl was ‘sacked’ their mortgage was $180 a week, their service bills and supermarket shopping left them penniless. To get by, they relied on the kindness of family, with Sarah’s Mum bringing over food to help out. She also told them about the accommodation supplement ($64 a week), and the community services card which cut the cost of Carl’s asthma inhalers; all this helped but was not a long-term answer.

Enter Mike Jackson, NDU National secretary with years of experience in the stores and warehouse industry. A keen unionist with a strong belief in workers getting a fair deal helped the negotiating team in Christchurch in 2003 win a $1.68 per hour pay increase and increased overtime payments. The campaign was on because Carl’s family had a right to a fair go!

Carl became a working class hero with his fire and rehire story which helped the NDU get the Employment Relations Act changed to provide a vulnerable workers clause.

With ever-rising prices the young couple still found it difficult to make ends meet, and felt humiliated having to accept food grants from Winz and food parcels from a Christian help line. Carl saw the irony: the food was damaged/out-dated goods from the distribution centre where he worked. Why not pay him a decent wage? Sarah said the parcels were really good as it was food you needed - food for kids or pets and basics.

When Luke was born Carl had a week’s parental leave and the IRD paid out a child allowance of $1200.

Now the Government’s working for families fortnightly payments are helping out with the food bills.

Last July Carl was back up in Auckland where Mike Jackson lead a joint union team in three days of hard bargaining with employers which resulted in the pay increases next month and next year.


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