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Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill

Second Reading

Thursday 6 October 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

RyallHon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) Link to this

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.

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

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)—which 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 and equity 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.

PowerHon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) Link to this

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.

TischMr DEPUTY SPEAKER Link to this

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

HutchisonDr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) Link to this

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 to do so 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. 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—

HutchisonDr PAUL HUTCHISON Link to this

—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, I say 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.

RobertsonGRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) Link to this

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.