Union fears over careworker plan

Mike Hanifin
Mike Hanifin
A union representing care support workers is nervous about a Southern District Health Board plan to enable transfer of workers to new employers by a different legal mechanism from the vulnerable workers' protection clause.

A letter from funding and finance director Robert Mackway-Jones to outgoing home support providers said an ''alternative arrangement'' removed legal uncertainty and process requirements associated with Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act.

Part 6A would not cover all care support workers. For instance, it would not cover workers who provided only personal care. The board said care support workers would be offered the same terms and conditions by their new employer. However, it would be up to workers to negotiate the terms.

''It is expected that, even if precisely the same terms cannot be offered, the offer of employment will be no less favourable to the support workers.''

Caregivers and Related Employees union organiser Mike Hanifin said the move suggested an ''agenda'' at work to reduce workers' pay and conditions.

At face value, it did not seem to comply with the Act for workers who were eligible for Part 6A, he said. There was confusion, and a lack of information and clarification was not helping, he said.

Recent Internet advertisements for carers to work for new provider Royal District Nursing Service New Zealand (RDNS NZ) were a ''huge concern'' for the union and workers, he said.

The Australian-owned organisation also advertised in Saturday's Otago Daily Times for a human resources officer (Dunedin based), administration staff (Dunedin and Invercargill), and care managers (Dunedin and Invercargill).

RDNS NZ was ''delighted to be part of Southland'' now, the advertisement said.

When contacted, Mr Mackway-Jones was surprised by Mr Hanifin's comments, as the arrangement was a good deal for workers and covered more than just those eligible for protection as vulnerable workers.

Workers should retain the same benefits and entitlements under the plan, which had been agreed with incoming providers, he said.

''What we're proposing to do is pick up a wider group of workers ... and the mechanism is to transfer that wider group of workers from one provider to the other.''

He acknowledged the board could not ''enforce'' the arrangement, but it had done all it could in a legally complex area.

Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran said the arrangement for workers appeared reasonable, given the restrictions of the vulnerable workers' clause.

However, the board needed to improve its communication with all concerned to avoid confusion and stress, she said.

-eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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