It was “humbling” for PSA delegate Jacob Crown to see how everyone stood together to campaign for PPE for care and support workers during the Covid Crisis.
PSA delegates from care companies across the country formed a group to campaign for personal protective equipment so they could safely care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
They began to get traction by emailing MPs, while a PSA media campaign brought the issue into the national spotlight.
By late March the campaign led the Director General of Health to extend the provision of PPE to care and support workers.
But Jacob says supply was still only coming in “dribs and drabs”, with distribution varying from employer to employer and DHB to DHB.
“We had members being given four masks. That didn’t even last a day.”
Intense lobbying of DHBs, the Ministry of Health, MPs and employers continued – with delegates putting in extraordinary hours for their members.
“We had some delegates working 40 to 50 hours a week on this,” recalls Jacob.
“If the union hadn’t been pushing we would have nothing.”
A PSA Facebook group helped connect everyone to the campaign, enabling instant communication between 800 members.
Through this Facebook group PSA members joined with support workers around the world to demand PPE in a Global Day of Action.
Despite those efforts it wasn’t until early May that the Ministry of Health updated its guidelines to recommend home support workers wear masks.
By mid-May adequate supplies of masks finally began trickling through, but even then the fight continued for hand towels and sanitiser.
Jacob says there was a “frustrating disconnect” between what the Ministry was saying and its understanding of a job, which requires workers to go from house to house to provide hands-on care.
“It feels like we are an invisible workforce, but this has highlighted the work we do. We are an essential service.”
PSA assistant national secretary Melissa Woolley says the PPE campaign is a stunning example of what can be achieved when workers come together with the support of their union.
The lack of PPE for care and support workers and others in the health sector showed flaws in our health and disability system, which is currently fragmented between public and private providers.
As we head towards Election 2020, the PSA will seek a commitment to integrate the system.
We also want a plan for decent jobs for home support workers with permanent, stable, well-paid work.