The focus of the last week has been on rescue; and on who have lost their lives. That’s as it should be.
We mourn the dead, particularly those workers who were just going about their daily working lives when the earthquake struck. But the hard stuff starts now. The earthquake will take its toll most on working people and their families.
Sadly there’s a lot more grief to come. I’m relieved to hear that union and Labour staff are fine, but there have been injuries and family or union members among the missing and the dead. The Trade Union Centre in downtown Christchurch looks munted and workers had to climb across the bricks to safety. Unions are looking for somewhere else to come together as they assess the damage to lives and jobs. They have as important a role in this tragedy as anyone else and their members will turn to them for help and support.
It’s workers and union members who are at the forefront of the effort facing Christchurch right now – the firefighters, rescue workers, health workers, social support workers, education workers, to name just a few. Stories are emerging of workers who took brave action to save workmates in precarious situations.
Caregivers have helped relocate hundreds of older adults from aged care facilities to other parts of the country, others have kept caring for their charges with disabilities, nurses have rolled up their sleeves and reported for work and MSD workers around the country have been on the phone to the vulnerable in the Christchurch community. Thousands of workers have volunteered to provide food, shelter, transport and friendship. This is despite the losses among the working community of Christchurch.
Forgive me, but I can’t help but note the irony that we are relying so much on the public service to be at the forefront of this. This is, in case you have forgotten, “the bloated public service” Bill English likes to talk about.
Redundancy announcements have begun – the first in a Christchurch rest home on Friday. Today, more than 230 jobs in New World supermarkets. There will be issues about pay, ACC, health and safety, and access to support. There will be an avalanche of job losses and, sadly, a build up of trauma. Many workers have witnessed things that will be with them for a long time to come.
The government has made some announcements, which are a good start. There needs to be more and I hope there will be. One suggestion: they should consider removing tax on redundancy pay, so workers can make any payments they receive stretch a bit further before they have to ask for work and income assistance.
We have to be there for the workers of Christchurch. Sadness, grief, loss come first – but then a whole lot more as the impact on every day workers lives and those of their families emerge.
Let’s stand with them.