Category Archives: people

Call for urgent changes to aged care by three Wairarapa rest homes

David Famularo, July 2017

Chris Clarke, Manager at Carter Court Rest Home in Carterton, is not a man given to over-exaggeration.

Never-the-less, the picture he paints of the financial challenges facing Carter Court and other not-for-profit rest homes in the Wairarapa is sobering.

Last May,  Carter Society Incorporated (Carter Court Rest Home in Carterton),  Arbor House (Arbor House Rest Home in Greytown)and Wharekaka Trust (Wharekaka Rest Home in Martinborough) sent an open letter to the Wairarapa’s MPs and candidates in this year’s general election.

The catalyst was the pay equity settlement which saw a significant increase in pay for care workers in rest homes.

While the three rest homes see this as a “significant milestone”, it has had the flow-on effect of creating an imbalance in remuneration, with care workers now earning more than other staff with similar levels of skills and responsibilities,  and close to that of staff with significantly higher levels of skills and responsibilities such as nurses.

Carter Court has addressed this by giving all its staff a pay increase, says Chris.

“The carers’  pay increase threatened the team feeling and co-operation that is essential for our services. We didn’t want to undermine staff morale and goodwill by sending the wrong message to all our staff. We want all our staff to know they are genuinely valued.”

The three rest homes are calling for rapid action by the government to achieve gender equity across all sectors – “through much faster means than a series of employment court battles.”

But there are other issue in play as well, says Chris.

One of these is level of funding rest homes receive and how it is calculated.

Rest homes receive a set amount of funding on a per-resident basis. Healthcare in general in New Zealand is underfunded with aged care the Cinderella of health spending with no significant funding increases for years until the pay equity settlement.

“We got a  1.8 percent increase in the subsidy on July 1st but the CPI in the quarter to March was 2.2 percent so effectively our funding is going backwards.”

Meanwhile costs associated with running a rest home continue to rise.

“Compliance has increased tenfold in recent years diverting valuable resources away from the coal face and annual subsidy increases of up to one percent are totally inadequate.”

To balance their budget, the three rest homes need an almost 100 percent occupancy rate. While this is the situation at the moment, there is never any guarantee that that will remain the case.

“The present funding mechanism doesn’t enable rest homes, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, to remain viable because occupancy numbers can fluctuate.”

Rest homes like Carter Court need to  be still around in a few years because demand for their services will inevitably increase. In the Wairarapa, the number of residents aged 65 and over is predicted to go from 18.3 percent in 2013 to 23 percent by 2043.

The present government policy is to support elderly people in their own homes for as long as possible. While the three rest homes say this is laudable in their open letter, “our experience tells us that there are elderly who are vulnerable, socially isolated and live in unsafe environments.

“Often there is a huge burden on other family members as well, especially as the elderly person becomes increasingly incapacitated.”

Chris says that while it is great that people are independent for as long as possible, some elderly people need to move into a rest home earlier and there needs to be a better transition process.

“The government needs to take a close look at the provision of care in community and how we support our elderly as they encounter the reality of needing more support – and every part of our community needs to be engaged.

“It’s all about how people are supported into full-time care and how communities can help, so when they move into a rest home they can still be connected to their communities – their church, clubs, friends and family.”

This is one of the reason that the survival of small community rest homes is so important, Chris believes.

“With the loss of Ultimate Care Greytown, for example, residents in the South Wairarapa now have severely limited options and have to move to Masterton and elsewhere.”

Another looming issue is the housing crisis. Not every older person owns their own home or has enough equity in it to sell up and move into a retirement village.

The Carter Society’s low cost rental accommodation is in strong demand and there is always full occupancy, Chris notes.

“Although it has only been small numbers to date, the Carter Society has been approached by elderly who are losing their rental accommodation and have few options on where to go.”

The three rest homes believe the government is not providing leadership on aged care.

“We need to have plans at national and local levels to ensure that we have the right mix of services and resources. The challenge of government is to establish and implement policies that show a commitment to addressing what are very important issues for our communities,” they say in the open letter.

They would like to see immediate action on redressing the funding mechanism so that rest homes are properly supported to remain open.

“We don’t want any more to close, says Chris. “I understand there is a funding revision going to happen but we have no idea of terms of reference or the scope of review – this is a quite serious situation with one of most vulnerable sections in community.”

The rest homes want a fair and equitable scale of remuneration for all aged care staff,  along with an increased recognition of what they do.

“We would like funding to reflect both the real costs we encounter  and reflect skills of staff. Caring for the elderly can be hard work and often staff are working with difficult and complicated health needs,” says Chris.

And they want the government to ensure that smaller locally owned services are valued and supported.

“The biggest tragedy is that we have lost some very important beds in the South Wairarapa and how are we going to get them back.”

Chris says there has been various levels of feedback from everyone who received the open letter.

NB Since this interview Chris has resigned as Manager at Carter Court to join the Red Cross Trauma Recovery Service in Wellington as Manager

Mark James – fighter for the Union

By David Famularo

For a man with a stressful job, Mark James has an upbeat personality, but also an intensity that comes with his conviction that Unions are good for workers – and employers.

I sat down for a coffee with him late last year to ask what it is like being a Lead Organiser for E Tu Union in the Wairarapa, which I would consider a fairly union-unfriendly region.

While based in Wellington, Mark regularly makes the journey over the Remutakas to connect with delegates in the workplaces in the Wairarapa that have members of E Tu which covers aviation,  communications,  community support, energy and mining,  engineering and infrastructure,  food  manufacturing, public and commercial.

“I grew up in Titahi Bay and still live there. Fortunately, we own  our house which we purchased 22 years ago. Mum lives just down the road from me. My parents split up when I was young and my father lives in Tawa. I went to St Pius Primary School in Titahi Bay. I chose not to follow the Catholic way and around ten or eleven and went to Titahi Bay Intermediate and Mana College.”

Do you think the Catholic focus on social justice has had any influence on you?

“I think it did actually, because it is about being kind to each other, and caring about each other, and understanding that greed is not a good thing – those are taught in Catholic teachings.”

Fifty years old, Mark is a qualified printer by trade.

“As soon as left college with Fifth Form Certificate in those days and a couple of subjects in University Entrance, I aspired to be like my father who was a printer at Government Print in Molesworth Street and went to work there too. I did a comprehensive apprenticeship and then wanted to go on to greener pastures and try other types of printing so worked for Bryce Francis in Marion street and then The Copy Shop, a small shop in central Wellington, then Graphic Print in Porirua which went into receivership.

I changed my lifestyle then and became a postie for 12 years and was a union delegate there for four years for EPMU (which has since been renamed E Tu).  One day an organiser came through and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would be interested in taking up this sort of job. I said ‘yes, of course’. My father had worked for the PSA so he taught be quite a bit, kept me grounded around working class people. I had already been doing extra mural studies – a diploma in business studies and diploma in industrial relations at the Open Polytechnic. I had found that very hard as I was working all day and studying with a family but it was very gratifying and worthwhile doing. So that gave me the grounding I needed to start working at EPMU. As a postie I could see  it was going to be a very physically demanding job as I got older and wanted to  go on to bigger and brighter things. My every intention at that stage was to be a manager for New Zealand Post but  it was the union that  had recognised my potential. I had a fully unionised workplace. I had managed to get everyone in the union. I impressed [to other workers] the benefits of the union and what we were trying to achieve.

I cover Wellington up to Levin and over to the Wairarapa.  We have a number of organisers based in Wellington that come over to the Wairarapa but I am the principle organiser with E Tu sites in the Wairarapa. I cover approximately 900 members of E Tu. We have around 400 members that I look after in the Wairarapa. I visit sites,  engaging members and non-members, management, advocating for our members for  wage increase via the collective bargaining framework, disputes, disciplinary, ACC issues and holiday pay issues.”

How unionised is the Wairarapa?

“In my view pretty poorly unionised and I think that is reflected in lower wagers that are paid over here.”

Has it ever been a well unionised area?

“I imagine prior to 1991 when unions were compulsory it would have been a very unionised area.”

What are some of the businesses that have fairly strong union membership?

“Well certainly Wairarapa Hospital – cleaners, orderlies, the maintenance guys and all that. Nurses have own union, but they are still very well organised.  Beehive Bacon, JNL, Webstar, Holmes Construction, Renalls Joinery, the Wairarapa Times Age.”

Are the employers will disposed toward you?

“New Zealand is signed up to ILO (International Labour Organisation) and we have the Employment Relations Act which recognises the right to collective bargaining. The Employer Relations Act 2000 promotes collective bargaining and also union membership. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone for being in the union along with sex, race etc.”

Are employers fairly pleasant to deal with?

“This is my own opinion, and it is reflected in the way the rich are getting richer in this country – businesses have a view that we are probably a hindrance to them because we are distributing income that they think they should have. Instead, we argue that the workers that created the  income, should have a fair share of that income.

Generally, larger employers who would have to deal on a daily basis with employees knocking on the door, asking for a pay rise, do like unions because the union comes in and does the bargaining for them. But a lot of smaller employers still see us as an hindrance.

And also smaller businesses don’t have the money to pay for  Human Resource Managers or Contractors and are wary that if you don’t follow process as to disciplinary outcomes or redundancies, there are ramifications. So they feel threatened by us because we hold them to account for their poor decisions. So there is a bit of animosity towards us because of that and they feel threatened by us. But we are only asking that a fair and reasonable process is undertaken when you are trying to deprive someone of their right to earn money. People need to understand that when you are dismissed from your employment you have a 13 week stand down at the WINZ office. You are depriving a work of any income for 13 weeks when you choose to dismiss them.”

Are they are nice to your face?

“I get mixed messages, to be quite honest. They may be accommodating to my face  but say  different things behind my back. And look, I didn’t come into this job to be popular. It is not about that. It is the social justice and rights, and also when you are delivering a good outcome to workers, you are delivering a good outcome for their families as well – that’s the social justice aspect of it.”

Stressful?

“Extremely stressful job.”

So how do you get away from your stress?

“Physical activity after work and obviously I have a very good employer that ensures that  we are trained to de-esculate things, and who  listen to your concerns about stress and workload. But I love mountain biking and physical activities, so that is how I destress myself.”

What are some of the things that have been going on in the Wairarapa?

“Sadly for me it’s the restructuring at Webstar. They have gone through a recent spate of restructuring because of the decline in phone books. They recently lost four staff and another six before that. There are around 100 staff there but there used to be more than that. We have around 85 members there.”

What about Beehive Bacon. What’s happening there?

“We had quite a difficult renewal of the collective employment agreement which went on for about three months of bargaining. There was quite an aggressive approach by the employers trying to a openingly negotiate directly with our union members who then had to resign from the union to get a pay rise so that was undermining the collective employment agreement.  When you have desperate workers who are wanting a pay rise and they can see individuals achieve a pay rise, that does drive that behaviour. Members saw through this through my representations to them and stuck together and we achieved a fantastic outcome – 2-2.5 to 4.16 increase for 12 months. We had a 43 percent increase in one of the allowances and other increases in allowances ranging from 10 percent to 17 percent. An allowance is where staff work at unsociable hours – when you are at work during a night shift when your family is at home and you should be supporting and being with them, but you are not so the accommodation allowance is to compensate for that.

We have 151 members out of around 250 workers. 100 of the workers are contractors from Kiwi Labour and Reed who are contracted to work for Premier Beehive. They have precarious employment which can be finished with one day’s notice. They don’t know from week to week how many  hours they are going to be working, for how many months or anything like that. That is why these sorts of relationships with contracting businesses are quite enticing to employers –  tap on and tap off. The relationship  is severed and there is nothing they have to pay that worker because they are not the employer. There is no redundancy, so all that would have to be paid is outstanding  holiday pay, if any.”

Are union members the ones that have been there a long time?

“No, generally what happens is that good workers who came from Kiwi or Reed are swapped over but it is not a guarantee. You have to prove yourself. This is great for them but not as productive. Morale is down. How can you pay the rent or mortgage when you don’t know how many hours  you have. How do you feed your kids and how do you pay your bills?”

To celebrate the collective agreement Beehive Bacon allowed Mark to organise a barbecue on site for E Tu members.

“It was to show our gratitude for staying together with us and achieving a great result. It could have turned really sour, and the  only people who would have benefited out of that would have been the bosses, because people need to understand that you have no bargaining rights on an individual contract. It’s like it or lump it.  Whereas as a collective we have the ability to say that is not good enough.”

A lot of younger people are not even aware what a union is.

“That is exactly right and this is upsetting for me because unions have done great things and a lot of terms and conditions and some of the long term conditions in the region and country have been negotiated by union members and yet now we have  group  of young people who don’t know what a union is or what their rights are at work.”

You were saying that unionism could be taught at schools.

“I think so. The education sector is very unionised  and there is the opportunity to try to include the school boards by getting on the boards in your kids school and so then talk about covering it in the curriculum. Get voted on and then talk about the benefits of collective bargaining and international labour  organisations and the rights of workers so schools can teach those sorts of things.”

Potentially schools can introduce those sorts of things?

“Yes. We have tried to set up union organiser visits to schools to talk to classes about unions. In Wellington , Kim Ellis, a colleague of mine on a number of occasions has gone to schools and presented  to the class around what a union is, what the benefits of a union are and what our role in society is. You know, we are a public institution. We are here for the greater good of our membership and society in general. It is around trying to ensure workers have a voice at work and they are rewarded well for their labour. That goes back into the community through their families and then everyone benefits.”

We were talking about some of things people may not realise they benefit from by being in a collective. One of those is redundancies.

“Yes, redundancy isn’t legislated in law in New Zealand. It is there in a lot of employment agreements but it is not legislated.”

And sick leave.

“The minimum in this country is five days a year which can accrue up to a maximum of 20 days whereas many of our collectives have better entitlements. When you are quite crook with some of the flus these days, you could be off work for two or three weeks. If you are with the collective you have enough sick days available to you to take that time off and yet when you get back to work you still have some sick leave entitlement.  Sick leave is not only about you, it is about using it for your spouse and your children, and five days a year for any family is a very tall ask. You would find many families would struggle, especially in winter. For example, a partner and two children and you only have five days sick leave a year, which means you are going without pay which puts more stress on your family.

The union collectives outline workers’ rights at work with respect to dispute resolution, parental leave, health and safety, what happens  when a new employer takes over ownership of a business.”

Mark points out that 45 percent of New Zealanders last year didn’t get a pay rise.

“But 98 percent of E Tu collective employment agreements did. That shows you the benefit of collective bargaining – workers standing together in the workplace with a united voice. That figure has been the same since 2008. Almost  half of New Zealanders have not gotten a pay rise each year. And yet the financial sector has had a rebound – the pay of CEOs has up in 10 percent levels but workers have not gotten a pay rise.

We have demonstrated many a time that when employers are  under stress, we are not there to send them to the wall. We ask them to demonstrate that to us to substantiate their financial position. Collectives can do that, individuals cant. If an employer says they are broke and can’t afford a pay rise, then they have to demonstrate to the collective. That is required under the good faith bargaining provisions of the Employment Relations Act. Whereas people on individual contracts are told ‘if you don’t like it, there’s the door. Go and get another job. And why should people have to change jobs to get a pay rise?”

You were also saying how unions can help with ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) claims which is interesting.

“The ACC is making billions of dollars at the moment. That is not for silly no reason. They are denying New Zealanders coverage. If a union member is injured at work the union will represent them to ensure the right decision is made. Often the employer won’t argue the case on behalf of the worker.”

Health & safety is outlined in collective employment agreements

“You are twice as likely to get injured in New Zealand as Australia and three times as likely compared to England. So we need strong health & safety provisions in our collective employment agreements.  But they need to be even more improved and enforced.”

Once the microphone had been switched off, I chatted with Mark some more and he recounted the battle he had with a landlord who had tried to charge him $3000 for supposed damage to the rental accommodation. Mark collected the necessary evidence and went through his old receipts etc to present a case that saw the landlord’s claim thrown out. That seemed to pretty well express the type of person Mark is.

“I’m a fighter. Most people can’t do that and that’s the benefit of having a union representative. People need to understand that your choice is either to stand up and fight – and if you are not in a union it is going to cost you a lot of money – or  just move on. My view is, if my kids are being bullied at school, do I just pull them out of school and take them to a new school?  No, we address the bullying at the school. It is the same as at a work place. If you have been unjustifiably dismissed and unfairly treated at your workplace, the answer is not just to get up and leave, because you are allowing that employer to do that to someone else, and it is just not fair, we need to be able to stand up for our rights.”

Mark also believes unions are good for employers too.

“People who feel respected, will treat you with respect, and reward you with their labour. But when you are not respected, when you are treated unfairly, you have a demoralised workplace that isn’t productive. It’s a lose/lose situation, and that is what employers need to start to understand,  stop seeing people as just a number and that profit will actually grow. You may have to pay them a little bit more but it will grow and grow because people will feel valued.”

Extracting pleasure and profit out of a bitter fruit

By David Famularo

Olive oil expert Pablo Voitzuk was in the Wairarapa this July 2017 to help with this year’s harvest. He took time out from a busy day at The Olive Press to share some of his knowledge and love of olive oil.

One doesn’t expect an interview with one of the world’s experts in olive oil to detour into the subject of the tango – unless you know they grew up in Buenos Aires and you like tango. But it’s still a surprise to discover Pablo Voitzuk was once part owner of an award winning record label with tango influences.

But the two are not so far apart, Pablo argues, along with his other vocation as an elementary school teacher – all require a certain meticulousness and sharing of knowledge.

Despite his Latin American origins, olives and olive oil were foreign to Pablo until he acquired a taste when hanging with Italian friends in New York. However, he points out that “unless you are very lucky, no one is born knowing olive oil.”

Recession in the Argentinian economy and the arrival of digital downloads forced Pablo to look at other options and by the early 2000s he was living at the foothills of the Sierras in northern California, and working for Apollo Olive Oil, one of the leading organic oil producers in the United States.

“I initially helped with the sales. They decided to improve their facilities and bought a new prototype for extracting oils, devised by Dr Marco Mugelli, a great innovator in Tuscany. He came to California and said I should become a taster so I  went to study with him.

“When he died I felt my education was not complete so connected up with some of his collaborators and studied with another expert, Pierpaolo Arca, in Sardinia.”

At this point Pablo mentions one of many surprising facts about olive oil. While olives have been harvested for thousands of years, improvements in the quality of olive oil have only  been recent and are still developing, “even in the older olive oil culture of Italy.”

Which is where The Olive Press comes into the picture. Established 17 years ago and now located at the south entrance to Greytown, The Olive Press presses almost all of the Wairarapa’s olive harvest.

Here for a three week visit, The Olive Press Managing Director Bruce McCallum says as far as he knows Pablo is the first overseas professional to come to these shores.

“The olive oil we produce is already of a very high quality. Pablo will lift the bar even higher, and has already introduced new practices. He is imparting his knowledge to our team and also having one-on-one time with the growers so they have a better understanding of what they can do before the fruit arrives here for pressing to improve the quality of their oil.”

Ask any grower if there is a lot of money olive oil and will likely give an ironic laugh. But Pablo points out Wairarapa growers are not unique in this department.

“It is heart-warming to see all these growers so dedicated and passionate about olive oil even when, as in most countries around the world, they are working against the odds. It is very hard to make it viable commercially, even in Italy.”

Pablo is well-versed in the commercial challenges facing olive oil producers here and around the world. In San Francisco he helps chefs and retailers find the olive oils that best serve their customers’ needs for Pacific Sun Farms.

“It’s a very short supply chain that is a way to favour quality and authenticity, which are essential for farm-to-table restaurants.”

Pablo is an optimist, believing in time more people will discover the value of this “super food.”

“Olive oil is under appreciated. People are better educated and have more of an appreciation for wine so they are prepared to pay more for it. Wine is a couple of generations ahead of us. Millions of people go to supermarket and know a good wine from a bad one.

“How many go to supermarket and know which is the better olive oil – just a few. When we collectively understand what an exciting superfood olive oil is, there will be more than enough demand.”

Which is where Pablo comes out with another of his interesting facts about olive oil.

“Olive oil is rich in anti-oxidants that can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other illnesses. Most importantly, its anti-oxidants are fat soluble, not water soluble.

“This means it has a natural fat shield that protects the anti-oxidants as they pass through the gastric juices of the digestive apparatus, reaching the lower intestine where they are absorbed into the blood stream and eventually offer protection to the cells from free-radicals.

“When used for cooking or drizzled over food, olive oil enhances the anti-oxidants in other foods as well, by protecting them and therefore, making them more available for us.”

Which is where he drops another interesting fact.

Unlike wine, olive oil is best fresh. “Even the best olive oil goes off. You should always buy the freshest olive oil from one season to the next.”

Extra virgin olive oil is the best to buy as it is defect free – defects not only affect the taste but also the nutritional value. Beyond that, olive oil will vary from one producer and another, one cultivar to another, and one season to another.

This season has been a challenging one for the Wairarapa’s growers due to the unsettled weather with bouts of wet and dry, but Pablo suspects it will produce a pleasantly mellow oil.

Pablo is a member of the California Olive Oil Council tasting panel and a judge at international olive oil competitions in the United States, Italy, and Japan.

Bruce is hoping his presence will have a flow on effect not only to growers but also the general public who can taste a variety of oils in the shop at The Olive Press at 14 Arbor Place, off Bidwills Cutting Road.

“You have good olive oils in the Wairarapa which is quite an achievement, and the growers are doing their best. Don’t take it for granted – take advantage of it. By buying from these growers you are supporting the local economy and that leads to multiple positive consequences.”

And one final surprising fact from one of the best tasters in the world – bitterness is a positive quality – “this is the juice of a bitter fruit.”