The one hundred attendants, members of Unite Union, have been in negotiations with the Waikato District Health Board since November last year.
The main claim was simply a Living Wage. Almost all the other union claims were either dropped or reduced significantly during bargaining to try to get the Health Board to agree to pay their lowest paid workers a wage they can live on according to lead negotiator and Unite National Secretary Gerard Hehir.
“The board, on the other hand, has tabled one wage offer and refused to even slightly amend it, even at mediation last week. That’s why the Attendants feel they have no choice but to take strike action.”
“Twenty dollars an hour is absolutely justified as a base rate for the work. The Hamilton City Council has embraced the Living Wage for all employees, the “core” public service has the Living Wage, but the lowest paid hospital workers are still denied it – go figure.”
Attendants regularly walk 15-25 kms a day servicing Australasia’s biggest hospital campus and undertake a huge range of tasks – from transporting rubbish and laundry to mail, specialised medical equipment and, of course, patients themselves. (For a good summary of the work attendants do, see Waikato Daily Times reporter Aaron Leaman’s 2018 behind the scenes look at their work: Say hello to Waikato Hospitals’s unofficial ambassadors )
Nearly half of the Attendants work less than full-time. While that suits some only wanting part-time hours it means the level of pay is crucial for those supporting their families.
“The Health Board claims that because some get paid night or weekend rates they are already getting a living wage. This is simply untrue.”
“Firstly their own figures show 42% of Attendants currently get less than the current Living Wage ($20.55 per hour), even when all allowances and overtime rates are added in.”
“Secondly the vast majority of hours worked do not attract any night or weekend rates and they are not automatically available to anyone who wants them. These rates are compensation for working unsociable hours and demanding hours of work.”
“Thirdly workers shouldn’t be forced to work weekends and nights just to survive. Those with family responsibilities are simply not able to work those hours to earn the extra income. Little wonder the wage gap between men and women persists with attitudes like the Waikato District Health Board are displaying.”
“The one and only pay offer from the Health Board was literally copied and pasted from another union collective that covers only a fraction of the Attendants at Waikato Hospital. Unite Union represents over 80% of the workforce but the board have simply refused to engage meaningfully over pay.”
“For the lowest paid workers to be repeatedly told take it or leave it and there is no more money is galling, especially when the board has the most appalling record of waste at the senior management level over recent years – totalling literally tens of millions of dollars (see links to articles below).”
“We can only hope that a new Chief Executive will actually want to listen to the workers and make a Living Wage for them a priority.