Workers Network Releases Covid-19 Demands For All Health Workers
14th April 2020
Health Sector Workers Network (HSWN) is a group of rank-and-file workers dedicated to self-activity and solidarity across the health sector and wider working class. They have released a list of six demands as a starting point to improving working conditions in healthcare, and in acknowledgement of the essential and life-saving work that has been done during the pandemic.
This comes on the back of a recent self-published workers’ inquiry based on a country wide anonymous survey circulated through social media in March 2019. The responses collected from the workers themselves showed a devastating foreshadowing of many public health issues we are now facing in the context of Covid-19. The pandemic has exposed the deep inadequacies and discrimination of our system and the damage that decades of underfunding, short staffing, terrible employment conditions and stagnant pay has caused.
The Covid-19 demands apply to all health workers in New Zealand; clinical and non-clinical, staff who work in the DHB systems and in the community, unionised and non-unionised staff. HSWN as a network transcends professions and union divisions, arguing that all health workers are invaluable and deserving of safe working conditions and fair pay.
HSWN is campaigning for the below demands to be implemented without delay by employers and, where necessary, the government, to ensure we retain and grow a healthy and valued workforce going forward.
1. PROPER PPE FOR ALL HEALTH WORKERS AND ACCESSIBLE, PRACTICAL EDUCATION ON HOW TO USE IT
Because New Zealand has confirmed community transmission and people can be contagious when they are asymptomatic. Health workers coming into close contact with people outside their ‘bubble’ are at risk of getting sick or becoming a vector of Covid-19 in their community. There must be a plan to ramp up supply of PPE and develop training for how to use it effectively.
2. WORK-THROUGH BONUS OF $5 PER HOUR EXTRA FOR HOURS WORKED DURING ALERT LEVEL 3 AND 4
Because as essential workers we are interacting with people outside our ‘bubble’ every day we go to work, and do not have the ability to physically distance. We know that overseas health workers are dying from the virus, even if they are wearing full PPE. During Alert Level 3 and 4 our work is more intense, demanding and stressful, and often involves higher duties, more training, or redeployment that we do not have a choice over. Special allowances must also be made in consultation with LMC midwives and others who do not get paid by the hour on a special work-through bonus. Back pay for hours worked to beginning of Alert Level 3 on 23/03/2020.
3. 14 DAYS PAID SPECIAL LEAVE AND FREE ACCOMMODATION FOR SELF-ISOLATION WHEN REQUIRED
Because health workers are at increased risk of exposure to the virus, and are worried about bringing it home to their family and those in their ‘bubble’. Many are not easily able to self-isolate at home if tested positive, and for these workers accommodation must be provided, free. Special leave for 14 days of self-isolation must be paid in addition to existing sick and annual leave provisions.
4. IMMEDIATE AND PERMANENT INCREASE IN SICK DAYS TO 30 PER ANNUM
This brings all health workers in line with the NZRDA DHB MECA. The current legal entitlement to sick leave is 5 days. Employers have differing arrangements to provide discretionary leave, but this is not always granted to workers, especially low paid and undervalued workers. Ensuring all health workers have 30 sick days per annum will ensure that the health workforce is able to look after their own wellbeing as well as that of their family, and avoid sickness and burnout.
5. EVERY ROSTERED WORKER HAS A MINIMUM OF TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS OFF PER WEEK
Two consecutive days off per week will help staff to recover and rest properly between rostered shifts. This will reduce burnout and unintended sick calls.
6. EXTEND THE WAGE SUBSIDY AND SPECIAL LEAVE PROVISIONS TO CASUAL AND PART-TIME ESSENTIAL WORKERS WHO ARE OUT OF WORK DUE TO COVID-19
Causal health workers are normally heavily utilised within the sector. However due to less work availability in certain areas, they have been told that they are not entitled to the wage subsidy scheme because they are essential workers. Many work multiple jobs but because of the rules, they have to choose which organisation to work for and are unable to take up offers of work elsewhere.