Hansard and Journals

Hansard (debates)

Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill — Second Reading, In Committee, Third Reading

[Volume:676;Page:21832]

Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill

Second Reading

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I move, That the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill be now read a second time. Many New Zealanders will be surprised that there is actually a second piece of legislation that has been going under urgency of the House in the last couple of weeks. The focus has been on the legislation that was passed just a moment ago.

The Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill will set in place a responsible and affordable framework to resolve the sleepover issues for employers and employees in the health and disability sector, and potentially for other employees and employers funded by the Crown. This results from a 2007 action that was taken, and the Government has worked with employers and employee representatives to resolve the matter. The bill strikes the right balance for employees, employers, and the Crown. It will mean that services for vulnerable people will continue to be delivered overnight, while setting in place progressive improvements in pay towards the minimum wage for employees who do sleepovers. It is a fair deal, and it is one that the Government was pleased to support.

The bill implements an agreement between the Crown, IDEA Services, Tīmata Hou Ltd, and the Service and Food Workers Union to settle wage claims for employees who sleep overnight at their workplaces while on duty. The bill makes provision for the payment of back wages to the eligible employees of IDEA Services and Tīmata Hou, who have previously worked sleepovers, as well as providing a sustainable platform for phasing in the minimum wage. The parties to this settlement were supportive of the bill in their submissions to the Health Committee. In addition to implementing the settlement between the Crown, IDEA Services Ltd, Tīmata Hou Ltd, and the Service and Food Workers Union, the bill also establishes a framework for the settlement of other sleepover claims from other health and disability employers funded through Vote Health, such as Spectrum Care, Healthcare New Zealand Ltd, and potentially other sectors funded by the Crown. It will allow for this through an Order in Council mechanism.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the chair of the Health Committee, Dr Paul Hutchison, who has undertaken that role for 3 years. I do not think a Minister of Health could have had a better select committee chairperson over that 3-year period. I thank committee members for their work on this bill. The committee has worked across the table and across parties to ensure that this legislation supports the continuation of vital services for some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and, at the same time, it has secured progressive improvements in pay towards the minimum wage for people working sleepovers. I think the committee’s thoughtful consideration of this bill and its work with submitters and officials will mean that the bill, once enacted, will be fit for purpose and a credit to the parties and members of this, the forty-ninth, Parliament who support it. The select committee has unanimously recommended a number of useful amendments that, taken together, will improve the operation of the bill. The Government supports the amendments as put forward by the committee, and we certainly commend them to the House.

Thank you to all of those members who have contributed to this legislation. The intention is to make sure that the most vulnerable people in our community and their families will continue to have the certainty to know that these services can be provided, and, at the same time, the workers and those who have had a claim registered will not only have a settlement but will know that they can move towards the minimum wage over the next couple of financial years. Thank you.

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) : This is one of the rare moments in the House over the last 3 years where I can genuinely say it is a pleasure to rise and speak in support of a Government bill. The Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill fixes what has been a very long-running injustice. I acknowledge again the hard work and commitment of the workers in the sector and the unions—the Service and Food Workers Union and the Public Service Association (PSA)—who have been relentless in their determination to see this issue to a just conclusion.

The settlement represents a 4-year struggle. Sure, it started in 2007, but there have been three court cases, plus the threat of yet another court case. It has required the patience of thousands of workers who have been waiting a very long time for the issue to be resolved around their work on so-called sleepovers, which was confirmed 4 years ago by the Employment Relations Authority as being work requiring payment of the minimum wage.

I also acknowledge the role of IHC. It employs 6,500 people, half of whom do sleepovers, and it has been faced with a huge liability to the extent that it was placed in statutory management. IHC told the Health Committee that it was pleased with the settlement, along with the Service and Food Workers Union and the PSA. What people may not know about this bill is that it provides for a staged progression of payments for sleepovers, with the full minimum wage payment due on 1 July 2013, but IHC is funding the difference so that the workers can get to full minimum wage by Christmas 2012. It has agreed to fund that difference. The unions told the select committee that IDEA Services had dealt truthfully and honestly with them and they described it as a magnificent organisation. I endorse those comments.

I also recognise the Government’s role in this settlement. It is doing the decent thing by legislating for this at the eleventh hour. The enactment of this legislation means that these workers will get their back-pay before Christmas.

I repeat that the bill represents a significant concession from the unions and union members. They are not getting the full entitlements that the court awarded to them. They have agreed to forgo those entitlements in the interests of moving on and in the interests of the sector and the people they care for. One of the things that the unions were very clear about during the select committee process was telling the members that although the unions were pleased with the settlement, they really want to move on now, because there is unfinished business in the sector. They are interested in the long-term future of the sector, and getting the settlement behind them means that the other issues that have been brought to light during this whole process of their battle over their entitlement to be paid the minimum wage will now come to the fore.

This is a low-wage sector. The workers who work in it are some of the poorest people in New Zealand and are among some of the most invisible. It is primarily a job done by women, and it demonstrates the issues around pay inequity that we have in New Zealand with occupational segregation. The PSA told us about the workers who work for Spectrum Care. Spectrum Care is another disability services provider, which grew out of the old Māngere hospital when we used to have residential care. Spectrum Care workers, interestingly, used to be paid the same as psychiatric nurses. They used to be paid the same as psychiatric nurses, but during the years of labour market deregulation, their wages have fallen further and further behind.

The workers are very highly skilled and dedicated, but there is no formal recognition of their skills. There are no mandatory competencies required for the job, and because it is a low-wage sector, there has been an increasing reliance on poor migrants to do the job, just as there is in aged care, because the job is unattractive to New Zealanders. It is tough, demanding work, and we should not underestimate the amount of personal commitment and sheer love that goes into this work, nor should we take it for granted.

As the Minister of Health has mentioned, not only IDEA Services workers will benefit from this bill. There is provision for an extension to other health and disability providers and potentially to other sectors funded by the Crown.

I am pleased that we are debating this bill and that it is the last piece of business before the adjournment debate and before Parliament rises. It is something to celebrate. I celebrate for the members of the union who have battled long and hard. They have faced down a very expensive court process and have had the odds stacked against them. I celebrate for the people they care for—and they care for them genuinely, with love. This is one of the great moments in this Parliament. It is a good way to end this parliamentary term.

Hon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) : Just noting the time, I seek leave for the House to sit beyond 6 p.m. this evening to complete the business outlined in the urgency motion.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) : It is a pleasure to take a very short call on the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill. It is important to emphasise that the three parties that were involved with this settlement all worked in good faith, and that the Minister of Health, the Hon Tony Ryall, worked particularly skilfully to facilitate this happening. It is also important to say the Health Committee worked extremely well in collaborating in a positive way to bring about some amendments to ensure that this bill was as good as it could possibly be. I emphasise also the very fact that if this had not come to be, it would have meant the insolvency of provider organisations and, therefore, the disruption of services to thousands of very, very vulnerable people.

The select committee heard three oral submissions, and there were also two other submissions: one from Business New Zealand, and the other from the Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Central. IDEA Services pointed out that it was keen to get out of statutory management, that it would cost it $33 million, and that it would have to borrow for this. It pointed out that this was something it wanted to see as a long-term solution, and that the training of carers would be a very important issue for the future. It also pointed out that it catered for something like 250,000 sleepovers per year, and it mentioned that for 95 percent of that time the carers were asleep, which is very important in regard to the court decisions. But I did want to make the point that John Ryall of the Service and Food Workers Union made the comment—

Hon Tony Ryall: No relation.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: —he is not related to Tony Ryall—that the carers were very passionate and dedicated about helping the disabled to lead an ordinary life, as was pointed out by Darien Fenton. His colleague Peter Cranney noted that one of the carers who was asked during the court case why he did not leave his job, with the very poor wages he was paid, said he did not leave because he knew the disruption that would happen to that household might last for up to 2 years. That really encapsulates the passion and dedication with which those carers do their jobs. He mentioned that IDEA Services was a magnificent organisation.

With that, this bill legislates a practical solution to a very difficult situation. It is worth celebrating. It is indeed a very positive bill on which to end the year.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) : I will be brief in this call. I really just want to echo the positive comments that have been made by my colleague Darien Fenton and also by members on the other side of the House. This is a great day not only for the workers in the health and disability sector but for the people whom they look after. This work, as Dr Hutchison has just alluded to, is not work—previous to now, anyway—that has been done for the money; it has been done because those workers are dedicated to looking after vulnerable New Zealanders.

One thing I would say is that the phrase that has been associated with the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill is the sleepover case. I have been uncomfortable with that term right throughout, because the people involved are at work. They are working, they are doing important things, and they are dealing often with difficult situations: seizures, people who need to be toileted, people who need to be looked after in the middle of the night. That is work; it is not a sleepover. The workers concerned deserve to be paid the minimum wage, if not more—certainly more, actually—than that. What this settlement does is acknowledge that it is work, that it is work involving some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and that it is undertaken by some of the lowest-paid members of our community.

The fact that we can come together as a Parliament on this settlement is excellent. I do believe that the threat of ongoing court action, the worry and the concern that the Government was not going to back a settlement, took its toll on the workers involved, but they stuck at it. We have had some very unfortunate things said in this House about unions by members on the other side during this 3-year term. I believe that this settlement is a victory for the workers, for the vulnerable people they look after, and for IDEA Services and their humanity and the sense of dignity they see in the people whom they look after. But also it is a victory for the union movement for sticking to their guns and making sure that they advocated on behalf of their members. I believe it to be a victory all round.

The Health Committee made some minor changes but they are ones that I believe will assist this bill to be implemented. The possibility exists for extension into other parts of the health and disability sector and other sectors. We have facilitated a process for that. I am grateful for the fact that we stand here, at the end of the parliamentary sitting, knowing that some of the lowest-paid workers in New Zealand will be receiving before Christmas back-pay, and on going through to the end of 2012 they will finally get what they deserve for the excellent work they did.

  • Bill read a second time.

In Committee

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I seek leave for all the provisions of the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill to be taken as one question.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there anyone opposed to that course of action? There appears not. The question now is that Parts 1 and 2 and clauses 1 and 2 stand part. Is any member seeking the call? I shall put the question.

Clauses 1 and 2 and Parts 1 and 2 agreed to.

  • Bill reported without amendment.
  • Report adopted.

Third Reading

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I move, That the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill be now read a third time. I would like to thank members for their contribution to the second reading debate and their support of the bill in the Committee stage, and I acknowledge the generosity and the goodwill of spirit not only on behalf of the unions but also on behalf of the employers who are also making a contribution to the back-pay here. I also thank the officials from the Ministry of Health and the Department of Labour, who worked very speedily and swiftly in order to get the good piece of legislation before the Parliament very quickly. With the passing of this legislation, we will then be able to process those claims and be in a position to ensure that people’s rights under this legislation are realised as soon as they can be. Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you very much and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and other members all the very best for the next 7 weeks.

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) : I start by thanking the officials and the Health Committee for their very speedy work, and also those involved in the negotiations and in the drafting of the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill. I am thankful for the way in which the process was conducted. I know, of course, that the unions were involved and were very pleased, and checked off any changes that the select committee made or suggested as well. So I think it was a good process, even if it was very short. I appreciate the hard work that went into this.

This bill is about respect. It is about respecting the work that is done in this very, very difficult sector—a sector that is very, very hard to work in. It is also about respecting the people who are being cared for in the community, who we all say should stay there and should be able to live as normal a life as possible. It is about respecting, as my colleague Grant Robertson said, the role of unions and the absolutely wonderful and constructive role they played in reaching this settlement. As I said before, they have made a significant concession. They have not taken this to the wire. It could have gone to the Supreme Court, as was being proposed, and wasted more time and money. They have made a concession. They have been very pragmatic, and, as they said, their interest now is to see things in the sector move forward. They want to see proper competencies required, proper training, proper skills, and proper pay. Even though the settlement has been reached for minimum wage for sleepovers, it is still a low-paid sector. There are still issues to be resolved.

This bill is about respecting the roles, but if we are to give the workers and the people cared for proper respect, there are other issues we will have to deal with in the next Parliament. I hope that we are able to do that in the spirit in which consideration of this bill has been conducted.

Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish you a very interesting time over the next 6 weeks. I say to all members of the House, those returning and those who are not, that we will see you on the campaign trail. Thank you.

DAVID CLENDON (Green) : Kia ora koutou. It is a pleasure to take a brief call on the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill, which rights a wrong. We have supported this bill throughout its passage, and are pleased to continue to do that. It feels much more wholesome to be involved in supporting a bill that implements a Court of Appeal decision, rather than earlier this afternoon, when we saw a bill overturning a Supreme Court decision.

My colleague Catherine Delahunty, who sat in on the select committee on this matter, observed that she was very pleased to experience a sense of unity and common purpose amongst the Government, the unions, and the key employer, IDEA Services, in this case. She reflected that, other than for the matter of some minor technical changes, the goodwill towards this legislation passing in a timely fashion was reflected in the sense that there was a sense of realism and an emergent sense of mutual respect, in place of the rather unfortunate denial that was evident in earlier sessions, when some question was posed as to whether the night-shift work was actually work at all. Of course, we know that it is work, and these people are absolutely entitled to at least the minimum wage and, in fact, probably considerably more than that.

It is true, of course, that the money—the cash—is important to these workers, but equally important to them is the question of training, setting some core competencies, developing mandatory competencies, and for that to be an ongoing process. This is not unskilled work. This is important; it is about looking after the needs of people who are vulnerable, people who are in need of care on a 24-hour basis, and it is very desirable that that should go ahead.

It has been noted that not only will the union members who fought so hard benefit from this, but also it is to be hoped that it will perhaps be a lesson, and perhaps will reveal to those workers who are not yet members of the appropriate union that there is real value in joining the unions. There was a single gentleman, a Mr Phillip Dickson, and to his great credit he initiated this process, but clearly it was a matter of collective bargaining. It was the power of the collective, represented by the Service and Food Workers Union and the Public Service Association, that actually brought this to fruition. Again that clearly represents the importance of unionising, particularly in workplaces that are low-paid, where individuals have very little power, and where the power of the collective has been a very important phenomenon to ensure that they get justice in this case.

Clearly, as I have said, the issue does not simply reflect that these people will finally be acknowledged for the skills and the compassion that they bring to this task. The amount of money per hour that these people have been paid is an amount of money that in this day and age the average 10-year-old would be underwhelmed by, if offered that amount to do a simple household task. Bringing this into line over time with the minimum wage—and a minimum wage that we would sincerely hope and advocate will be raised to a more appropriate level; ultimately two-thirds of the average wage—will be a much more satisfactory outcome.

With those brief words I will simply close by saying that we are pleased that this is being completed in a timely fashion. We wish all the best to those people who are continuing to do this very difficult and demanding work, and we wish them well. Kia ora koutou.

Hon RICK BARKER (Labour) : In this debate on the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill I want to make two brief points. The first one is that in this debate over sleepovers, one of the key points that I think has been overlooked is that these people who are asleep at night carry responsibility. There are lots of people in this world, in New Zealand, who get paid fabulous salaries, not because of the work they do, but because of the responsibility they carry. The people who are in charge of these rest homes and these homes at night carry the responsibility for all of the people who are in them. If we think about responsibility, and the responsibility for the care of those people, and having to carry that responsibility, the amount of money they are paid is inadequate.

The second point I make is that this is historical. This House has to look in the future at legislation and support mechanisms that pay people in this sort of category of work a wage that is appropriate. A wage of $13.50 an hour is simply inadequate recompense for the amount of work these people do. The personal care, the personal chores they have to do for people in their homes and in these particular establishments, is incredibly personal and very direct. I do not think there would be anybody in this House who would want to have to clean up the sorts of messes and take care of the responsibility for the things that these people do at all, no matter how much they were paid. We expect these people in our community to do this for a measly $13.57 an hour. I think that is wrong. I have never agreed with it, this House should never agree with it, and we should put in place mechanisms to ensure that these people are paid appropriately and funded. So the challenge for this Parliament is to do right by these people in the future. We should tidy up the past, but we need to do things for these people in the future.

My last point is, on my behalf, to say thank you to the Speaker and all those who have supported this House through the last 3 years. Thank you.

RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : I am really pleased to stand to speak on the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill this afternoon. This afternoon in the House has been a game of two halves. The first half involved legislation that we were appalled to see passed under urgency and lacking the due consideration it required for the public to engage with it and understand the full implications of the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill. But the second half—this bill—is a completely different story.

This bill signals the successful resolution of a longstanding claim concerning about 5,700 of the country’s lowest-paid workers. It is a story about counting the value of the dedicated commitment so many of these workers have made to making life just that much easier for the people they are supporting. The bill enacts the commitment of Cabinet to raise sleepover rates for disability support workers from the current IHC rates of $34 a night to the minimum wage of $13 an hour over the next 15 months. The Māori Party is proud of our Minister Tariana Turia for the work she has done, alongside the Minister of Health, to get this deal through.

In many ways, this has been described as a landmark deal—a $100 million opportunity to pay these unsung heroes the minimum wage for overnight sleepover shifts from Christmas next year. The deal includes back-pay, from July 2005, of half the difference between what workers were paid and the minimum wage applying at the time—up to $70,000 in some cases for some workers. It is a wonderful early Christmas present, and I am proud to be part of a Parliament that will enable this legislation to pass.

I have a personal association with the sleepover issue. One of my sons spent 5 years supporting young people with intellectual disabilities in a respite home. He would take on the night shifts over the weekend, and he and one other worker would base themselves at the residence and prepare for come what may. Often, those nights with the rangatahi were challenging, to say the least. It was not at all uncommon for the inhabitants to somehow escape the house, in various states of undress, and embark on a long walk to town along the nearby railway tracks. When my son finally caught up with the absconders, inevitably it was something of an ordeal to persuade them to come back home, and to stay home for the rest of the night.

The other thing of note from this time was that often once the residents were fed, showered, toileted, and put to bed for the night, the real work would actually begin. Soiled clothes and linen would be washed, bathrooms would be scrubbed, the house would be brought back to a semblance of order, and paperwork would be done. This was not just a one-off occurrence; working with young people with intellectual disabilities was a challenge. Often there would be an incident that would require the workers to be intensively involved in providing supervision, support, management, and quality of care.

Yet here is the rub: between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. my son and his co-workers would receive the princely sum of about $34 as the sleepover rate. That equates to about $3.80 an hour, which is barely the price of a bottle of milk. Such a pitiful payment fails to reflect the importance of appropriate and responsible care being available for some of our most vulnerable citizens. It also fails to take into account the fact that the work that is undertaken during the time when presumably one is meant to be asleep is arduous, back-breaking work. It is physical work. Workers were not allowed to leave the premises in that time; they were to stay on site and be available for any eventuality. It is not simply a matter of curling up on the bed for a good sleep and hoping that everyone else will do the same—far from it.

Frequently it requires a level of compassion, understanding, and sensitivity that will ensure the appropriate and respectful care of the people the workers are responsible for looking after. As my son put it, it requires a heart. He also told me that the management and the staff he worked with were wonderful people. They were committed, they were kind, and they were dedicated to meeting the needs of those in the residence. But when it came down to it, $34 is a pittance for the work, the skill, and the humanity required to exercise these roles. I wanted to tell that story today because sometimes I think we speak to legislation with generic terms like “employer”, “employee”, “the health and disability sector”, and “minimum wage”, and we forget about the human dimension to the situation.

I congratulate IDEA Services Ltd, Tīmata Hou Services, and the Service and Food Workers Union for their perseverance in doing what they can to improve the conditions for those providing such vital services for vulnerable people overnight. I acknowledge too the submissions made to the Health Committee by the Service and Food Workers Union—Ngā Ringa Tōtā—the Public Service Association, and IDEA Services Ltd. I recognise the effort of Business New Zealand and the Employers’ Chambers of Commerce Central in taking up the opportunity to present a submission, even under such dire circumstances and time frame. But at the end of the day, although the Government, the unions, and the providers have come to the party, our greatest accolades must be reserved for those who work sleepovers—

Chris Hipkins: Who wrote this? Just table it.

RAHUI KATENE: —and the difference they make to the lives of the many people they support.

The Māori Party, unlike that member over there, is very much a supporter of the view put forward by Mahatma Gandhi, who said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” We believe that the moral test of any society is how the most vulnerable members fare, and in this regard we wholeheartedly endorse the Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill to provide certainty for employers, employees, and the Government, to establish a sustainable pathway to improve the pay for thousands of employees who undertake this vital work, and, most of all, to ensure continuity of care for those who will benefit the most from the impact of this legislation—the people who require the support of others to stay overnight.

  • Bill read a third time.