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Almost 30 staff from an Otago-based Anglican child and family support service claim to have been suspended without pay just 10 days before Christmas.
Public Service Association (PSA) spokesman Asher Goldman said 27 unionised staff members from Anglican Family Care -- which is based in Dunedin, Alexandra and Balclutha -- were told they would be suspended without pay effective immediately when they arrived at work this morning.
The moved followed "very low-level industrial action" including staff refusing to wash company cars, answer their phones outside of company hours, or train any new staff.
The staff today staged a silent rally outside the organisation's Dunedin office in protest.
The unionised staff members had been participating in collective bargaining for several months in an unsuccessful bid to achieve a cost of living pay increase, Mr Goldman said.
However, after a series of successful mediation meetings, the company pulled out and the union resumed its industrial action, he said.
"That was met with our members coming in to work today and being told to go home and being told that they were suspended without pay 10 days out from Christmas."
The union members were not forewarned of the suspension, Mr Goldman said.
"The first we knew of it was when our members turned up to work and they were told not to be there."
The company's actions appeared to be in accordance with the Employment Relations Act, he said.
Mr Goldman said they hoped to return to the bargaining table with the company.
"We're hopeful that they'll agree to that," he said.
"We're putting in an application today to the Employment Relations Authority for urgent facilitated bargaining."
Anglican Family Care provides caregiver support, home visits by social workers, and food bank and budgeting services for vulnerable Otago families.
The affected staff members represented just over half of the company's employees.
PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff described the company's actions as "an extremely aggressive step to take, especially just before Christmas".
Anglican Care director Nicola Taylor declined to comment on the industrial action or the union members' suspension.
- Brendan Manning of NZME. News Service