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Low-paid Workers Demand Employment Law Protection

Low-paid Workers Demand Protection in Employment Law

Thousands of low-paid workers face losing their jobs, or are forced to accept a drop in pay and conditions when their work is contracted out or transferred to another employer, MPs have been told today.

One of the country’s biggest unions, the Service and Food Workers Union, told the transport and industrial relations select committee that it supported proposals in the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill to protect these vulnerable workers.

The Bill allows specified groups of workers, such as cleaners, to choose between transferring to the new employer on the same pay and conditions, or opting for redundancy.

“Thousands of these workers face losing their jobs every few years when the contract is up for renewal,” SFWU national secretary Darien Fenton told MPs. “Most of them are on low pay, so it’s impossible to save for tough times ahead.”

The SFWU also called for improvements to the law to protect workers’ rights to collective bargaining, and to end employers’ practice of passing on union-negotiated benefits to non-union members.

Note: Tomorrow at 9am groups of workers employed by the TAB, IHC, Ryman Healthcare, Presbyterian Support Central and Ewart Hospital – who are also members of the SFWU – will tell the select committee their own workplace experiences, and why they need the law to change. The union’s Pacific Committee will also address the select committee members.

Talula Fa’aesea’s story, told to MPs, continues...

Talula ‘Ula’ Fa’aesea is struggling to keep up with the new demands of her job.

In the last fortnight since the new company, Cleaning Plus, took over Ula has had to do the same work with less staff, less money.

Ula, as she prefers to be known, has been a cleaning supervisor at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) for nearly a decade, but she has never had to work so hard for so little. “I was crying for the first week, I feel really sorry for the cleaners.” says Ula.

With the changes Ula, a supervisor, cannot get time to inspect all the work that is being done or to supervise new staff. She also knows that if someone calls in sick there is no-one who can cover for them, that means more work for everyone.

“I have less staff and more work, how can I cover if someone isn’t in?” asks Ula, In the last fortnight, since Cleaning Plus took over, 3 staff have resigned. They follow the 5 staff who lost their positions in the transfer of contracts restructuring.

Ula says that the pressure of the last couple of weeks is unlike anything else she has experienced at AUT. The workload for the cleaners has sky-rocketed since Cleaning Plus took over.

Formerly cleaners had a total of 895 hours per week to clean AUT’s offices and buildings, under their new employer they have a total of 540 hours a week to do the same amount of cleaning.

The drop in hours means that the cleaning work needs to be done in half the time, in other words twice as fast.

“I’ve been cleaning for 25 years and this is the first time I have seen people treated like this” said Ula

Since the Cleaning Plus takeover Ula has also lost her supervisors allowance, which cut her take-home pay packet by quite a lot.

Ula’s job is to supervise the cleaners, who are spread out in buildings all over the campus, and she only used to fill-in when someone was sick or there was extra work to do.

However, for the last two weeks she has had to do the supervision work as well as cleaning for a whole shift because there are not enough staff – all of this is for less money and a lot less respect.

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