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Reports of unions using the pay equity ratification meetings to sign up non-union members have impelled employers to attend the meetings. However, union E tū denies these claims and states that employers’ attendance is “entirely inappropriate”. JUDE BARBACK reports.

Meetings are being held all around New Zealand between the unions and workers in the aged care, disability and home-support sectors to ratify the Government’s pay equity settlement offer. Even though the official ratification period ended 24 May, the Ministry of Health has expressed an expectation for employers to continue to facilitate the ratification meetings between their staff and the unions. The meetings will give workers a chance to vote on whether to rest the legal action in favour of the settlement offer. If the majority votes for it, as expected, the Equal Pay Settlement will be implemented from July 1.

E tū has extended the meetings to all workers affected by the settlement offer, not just union members.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association (NZACA) says that employers are entitled to negotiate their own acceptable format for these meetings and that managers are allowed to attend the meetings that include non-union members.

NZACA chief executive Simon Wallace says that there have been some reports of the meetings going “off track” and the focus switching to signing up non-union members to the union.

Wallace says he has been informed of one ratification meeting where the union removed a manager from the meeting and then in the manager’s absence coerced a number of workers attending the meeting – many of whom speak English as a second language – to join the union.

“E tū rejects any such suggestion,” responds spokesperson Alastair Duncan.  He maintains employers’ presence at the meetings would be “inappropriate” as it concerns the employees’ decision to rest legal action against their employers.

“Our experience has been that staff not only value the role of unions in securing the settlement, they are also conscious that some employers, including NZACA in the Select Committee last night, have been fear-mongering about job loss and reduced hours.”

Both E tū and NZACA agree the majority of ratification meetings have gone well so far.

Wallace says some members reported a celebratory tone to their meetings, which he sees as a reflection of how hard NZACA members have pushed for a fairer pay level for aged care workers.

“The unions don’t have carte blanche on this,” says Wallace. “We’ve worked very hard to increase wages for our caregivers.”

E tū disagrees.

“The NZACA has seemingly gone out of its way to try and take credit for a settlement that was delayed for five years while NZACA contested the issue in the courts,” says Duncan.

“We would hope that NZACA would now put its energy into ensuring the restoration of relativities, delivering the training and support needed to ensure staff progress up the scale and working with the unions to entrench and support the settlement.”

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