Monday, 28 September 2009
Chants of "Union Power!", and toots of support from passing cars, rang out in the leafy Wellington suburb of Thorndon on September 26 as two hundred rest home staff protested outside the offices of Presbyterian Support Central (PSC).
Rallies were also held in Palmerston North, Levin, Wanganui and Masterton.
The carers, belonging to the NZ Nurses Organisation and Service & Food Workers Union, are paid much less than their counterparts in the public hospitals. They took a two hour stop-work to protest the miserable pay offer in their current negotiations.
PSC is the largest operator in the aged care sector in the region, owning 16 rest homes in the Lower North Island through its "Enliven" arm. It receives huge amounts of government funding.
Like the last Labour-led government, National is refusing to set any requirements on how this public money should be spent.
This is despite a recommendation last year from Parliament's Health Select Committee that funding should be focused on increasing wages up to the levels paid to similar workers in District Health Boards.
In 2009, Enliven is receiving a 4.9 percent increase in funding from government. It only wants to pass on 3.1 percent pay rises – except to a few nurses who, in a divisive move, are being offered much more.
A stumbling block in negotiations is that the employer representatives at the table don't have the authority to make any binding decisions. General Manager Nicola Turner is refusing to take part. The protesting workers chanted, "2, 4. 6, 8 – Nicola, it's time to negotiate".
PSC share their Wellington office block with a number of other NGOs. The NZ Council of Christian Social Services, an umbrella body which Presbyterian Support belongs to, has its headquarters there.
If Nicola wasn't shamed in front of her Christian peers, she should have been.
The National government's vision for the health system is for more and more services to be provided by the private sector and NGOs like Enliven.