Our members at ESR are some of the unsung heroes of New Zealand’s Covid response.
From Covid-19 diagnostic testing, wastewater research, genomic sequencing and much more, Aotearoa has relied on the Crown Research Institute (CRI) to provide critical services to help us get through the pandemic safely.
PSA delegate and Laboratory Operations Technical Lead Paula Scholes says the entire organisation has been involved.
“The whole ESR team played a role in the frontline response – from the labs providing scientific testing, analysis and advice, to our IT people quickly developing IT systems to support the swift sharing of data between different government agencies.”
CRITICAL COVID TESTING
One example of ESR’s important work is the establishment and maintenance of New Zealand’s Covid-19 testing.
Delegate Wendy Gunn, who works in the Clinical Virology Laboratory says testing was critical at the beginning of the pandemic so the virus could be tracked.
“We needed to get a reliable Covid-19 test validated for New Zealand as soon as possible.
“Once we had the test in place, ESR labs received a large volume of samples which required results within a very fast turn-around time. Alongside the intensity of this testing, we worked hard to support other labs around the country so they could run their own testing.”
It was many long hours of hard, stressful work that was critical to New Zealand being able to successfully get through the lockdown period.
After so much blood, sweat and tears, it was a bit of a shock to the PSA negotiating team when ESR was not prepared to offer any increase in remuneration for the 2020/21 year.
Not only had the ESR team been pivotal to managing Covid-19, but ESR salaries were well behind those of other CRIs, putting it at risk of losing experienced talent.
The PSA bargaining team suggested ESR go back to the drawing board, and when a further very low offer was received sought feedback and ideas from members.
After further negotiations and a problem-solving approach, ESR and the PSA finally reached an acceptable settlement in April.
While it didn’t completely close the gap with other CRIs, it did deliver modest increases for almost all staff. These were based on a cash figure rather than a percentage, ensuring those on lower salary bands still received meaningful increases.
Members agreed it was a step in the right direction towards recognising the incredible work the whole ESR team had put in through the year.
The next step to improve members’ pay will come in August, when a joint working group will propose a new remuneration framework.
Meanwhile, as Te Mahinga Ora went to print, PSA members had just heard that ESR is proposing to disestablish some members’ jobs. We’ll continue to support members as we learn more of the proposal.
Nā Briar Edmonds
Image: ESR’s 2020 clinical virology team including Wendy Gunn (second from left)