Access has failed to provide support workers with regular and guaranteed hours, failed to provide staff ten minute breaks, and failed to pay staff wages they are owed after clients have cancelled scheduled services.
"Our members are employed under a legally binding collective agreement with Access Community Health, and this agreement means they have rights. We do not intend to allow anyone to deny our members their rights at work," says Kerry Davies, National Secretary of the PSA.
"These are essential front line health workers, who provide a crucially important service to elderly, sick and disabled New Zealanders. Their employer must pay them properly, allocate them the right amount of hours, and ensure they get ten minute breaks in the course of their sometime gruelling work day. Our legal action is about making sure that happens."
Union lawyers filed a Statement of Problem with the Employment Relations Authority in Wellington on September 2.
The PSA is seeking legal determinations regarding the issues, certainty of hours and wages in arrears with interest for underpaid members.
The union has co-launched a campaign supported by Grey Power and other health unions called "They Deserve the Best", which seeks to highlight the injustices endured by support workers and calls on the government to fix New Zealand’s fragmented and failing home support system.
"Support workers are tired of being taken for granted. Some may assume they will keep quiet and put up with it because they know how much their clients need them, but those days are over," says Ms Davies.
"These workers deserve the same respect and dignity that they provide to others. They deserve to make a decent, secure living with regular hours you can budget and plan a life around. We intend to campaign hard for that, and we are confident New Zealanders agree these are both fair and modest expectations."
See also: Access Community Health coordinators, contact centre workers and administrators to take industrial action
Workers who co-ordinate the home support of over 20,000 aged, injured and disabled people across New Zealand have voted to take industrial action in total frustration at their employer’s refusal to raise their wages.
Despite playing a vital role in the care and support of around 3.8 million clients including scheduling visits and matching support workers to vulnerable clients, many of these workers are paid at the minimum wage.
"The employer’s latest offer was rejected unanimously at meetings around the country, with 100% of voters in support of industrial action and 100% rejection of the employer’s offer", said their unions, PSA and E tū - the Home Support unions for New Zealand.
"We are really being stretched thin. Under-staffing means we’re working longer and longer hours, in a job where more and more people need support out there in the community and in their homes. We are dedicated to our jobs and our clients, but we cannot continue under the current conditions - something has to change, and soon" says care coordinator, Kirsty Rowe.
"Industrial action is a last resort for these workers, but they believe it is also necessary to ensure that quality of care is maintained for their clients," says Melissa Woolley, PSA assistant national secretary.
"Access says they can’t raise wages because of a lack of funding. But this is a business owned by Green Cross Health, the group behind Unichem and Life Pharmacy, which reported a net profit of $8million in the six months to September 2018," Ms Woolley says.
"Access is a major home support provider, delivering around 20% of all home and community support in New Zealand, but it hasn’t increased wages for coordinators in the same way that competitors have."
"Support workers received a significant pay boost from the 2017 care and support pay equity settlement. But coordinators, admin, and contact centre workers have been left behind - and now earn less than the support workers they are responsible for coordinating," says E tū Home Support coordinator Kirsty McCully.
"These workers are the glue that hold Home Support together in New Zealand. Their work matters, and they deserve to be respected and paid properly for the contribution they make," Ms McCully says.
The PSA and E tū have agreed to urgent mediation with Access, but members are preparing to take unprecedented strike action for the week of the 13th unless mediation sees a significantly improved offer from the employer.
Key company information
Access Community Health is a subsidiary business of Green Cross Health Limiting, a primary health care services company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. As of March 2019, the group had a market capitalisation of $143 million.
- Pharmacies: 362 pharmacies under its Unichem and Life Pharmacy brands
- Medical: 41 medical centres under the doctors brand
- Community: home support services to 21,400 clients through Access Community Health, with 3.8 million home visits in 2018, employing 3,500 support workers and 166 community nurses.
Net profit attributable to shareholders increased from $16.9 million in 2017 to $18.7 million in 2018, and the company issued more shares and paid more in dividends to its shareholders.