When the National Party talks about Planet Labour, they think they are being very funny. Actually, I believe they’re the ones living on another planet, and it’s certainly not Planet Reality.
I just met a couple of great women who know Planet Reality. They are caregivers in an aged care facility, which includes a dementia unit, some with years of service. Most of them are on minimum wage.
They and their fellow workers were on strike three days last week to get a collective agreement. They haven’t had one since the Home was sold by the Baptists to a private owner in 1997.
They want a pay scale that recognises their experience, skill and service, that isn’t dependent on minimum wage movements or the will of the boss. They want a way to ensure that taxpayer funded increases are passed onto the workers when they are intended to be.
They’ve been bargaining with their employer since last October. They’ve been in mediated bargaining since February. They’ve done everything they can under the law to get their employer to agree to a new agreement and they will do more – at least while they still can.
The government’s going to change the law so employers don’t have to keep bargaining. When they’ve had enough, they can say, that’s it, had enough, bargaining over. Bad luck. Back onto your individual contracts where you belong.
Minister Wilkinson tries to soft soap this by saying this change will return the law to how it was under Labour until 2004. But the law was changed because some employers were “surface bargaining” – going through the motions until they could pull the plug by saying bargaining was concluded.
I know this doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It certainly means nothing to those who don’t understand the realities of low wage workers and how hard it is to get a collective agreement settled when your employer doesn’t want a union on the job, because it’s a whole lot easier to have all the power.
I just hope these women get a deal before Wilkinson manages to get the law changes before parliament.