On the Picket Line

New Zealand home-care workers strike for a union contract

By Patrick Brown
January 18, 2021

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Fifty home-care workers and their supporters mounted a picket line here Dec. 18 outside the office of Lifewise social services. They are fighting for a union contract.

The workers travel to provide care and assistance to elderly people living at home. Of the 100 or so employed by Lifewise, a division of the Methodist Church,  87 are organized, say leaders of the E tu union. Dozens came to the picket lines, as all but a handful of union members carried out the three half-day strikes, of which this was the third.

Pickets told the Militant the company reneged on a pledge to sign an agreement last year. A key grievance is the irregular workweek. “Some of the girls are not getting guaranteed hours,” said Katrina Peart, who has worked for Lifewise for 19 years. Others, she said, are forced to “work from seven in the morning to seven at night, five, six, or even seven days a week.”

Kelly Davis, an 11-year veteran, explained that some workers who are supposed to be on 40-hour weeks “are getting maybe 20.”

The union is also demanding “more bereavement leave,” she said. The three days paid leave on the death of a loved one is especially inadequate for workers who have to travel to Pacific nations like Tonga and Samoa — the case for many Lifewise workers — for a family member’s funeral.

The work is demanding, said union delegate Susan Kaio, who led the chants and singing on the line. Time with clients sometimes has to be cut off because of scheduling the next appointment, she said. “Travel time is paid for, but at a lower rate” than home care. And sometimes workers end up sitting in their cars, unpaid, because too much time is scheduled between clients.

The company hired agency workers to keep up work during the strikes, unionists said. They are planning to step up strike actions if the company bosses continue to ignore their demands.