Ten years on from the February 22 earthquake we reflect on the challenges faced by our members in Canterbury as they helped their community to rebuild.
When Christchurch court registry officer and PSA member Brendan Paris was relocated to Ngā Hau e Whā Marae after the February quake he had no idea it would be two years before he would return to work in the central city.
The quake was already taking a personal toll on Brendan, his family and workmates. He and his family had stayed in Auckland for several weeks in the immediate aftermath, unsure if they would even return to the city. Then when he did come back he was separated from colleagues who were redeployed elsewhere.
The June 2011 issue of Working Life reported that part of the Christchurch District Court was operating out of the marae, where criminal cases were heard in the wharenui, a portacabin became a makeshift cell, and a campervan was the new staffroom.
“That winter our office was a container. It was wet and iced over,” Brendan recalls.
Court files had to be couriered over from the city every day, there were no landlines, and it took an hour to get computers up and running due to connectivity issues.
But overall Brendan believes it was a positive experience.
“The marae setting changed people’s behaviour. It was nice for them to be able to wait in the sun, and to be in a grassy, peaceful area.”
Brendon found it strange when he eventually moved back to a busy refurbished office in the city.
The new Christchurch justice precinct which opened four years ago has taken some inspiration from those times though, with different agencies working alongside the courts as they had at the marae.
LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER
That cross-agency approach to the disaster was also reflected within the PSA as delegates and members formed the Ōtautahi Leaders Group after the February quake.
“It was a very difficult and confusing time. We were struggling a lot in different ways,” Christchurch IR delegate Heather Allan remembers.
“We would meet and chat about what our members needed, what delegates needed, what different organisations were doing well and not so well. We were learning from each other.”
While many organisations allowed staff time off work to relocate due to red zoning or repair work, some members needed a lot of advocacy if their organisations were less supportive.
Heather says the response of some agencies changed over time. If decisions were being made outside of Christchurch there was sometimes a lack of understanding that people were still being affected a long time after the initial quakes.
“We had people who were still struggling to get repairs done five or six years later, or who had two or three lots of repair work if the initial work was botched.”
Ten years later Heather says most public services are back to normal and have taken on board lessons from the disaster such as improving contingency planning.
However, she says there is still a huge demand for mental health services.
“We’ve come a long way but some people are still struggling. And we have the quake babies who are now in their teens who were not living in ideal situations growing up. There is ongoing trauma. ”
The Ōtautahi Leaders Group has met regularly over the past decade, responding to other events like the Kaikoura and Wellington quakes, and more recently the March 15 Terror Attacks.
“The attacks were trauma on top of trauma for some people. But there has been real value in having this group that works through issues and shows solidarity across our public services.”
Christchurch organiser John Stace agrees the cross-agency leadership group was ground-breaking in working together through change and challenges.
“When a lot of public services were moving back into the city centre from their post-quake accommodation, that group was vital in working through concerns, sharing resources and successes, and networking between agencies that were being relocated together when they hadn’t been previously.”
Looking back John says he has immense respect and gratitude for the mahi of our PSA members and delegates immediately following the quakes and during the recovery.
He urges employers to keep listening to staff and for members to know that it is all right if they still have struggles, are feeling ok, or are somewhere in-between.
“We know that with all that has happened in Canterbury, and around our country and globally, there has been a bit going on, so it is all right to seek support, and to encourage colleagues and friends to do so.”
For further support go to www.allright.org.nz
BACK TO THE CITY
And in positive news for 2021, the PSA Ōtautahi Christchurch office will be back in the central city this year. Like many others we were displaced in 2011 and were never able to access our old office.
We know so many PSA members are based in or near the central city so we are stoked to be joining you there again soon.
Main photo caption: Tenth Anniversary Memorial Service