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Unions and Covid19: a guide for help during these unprecedented times

Local union rep and activist Justine Sachs joined the 95bfm Brekky show to give you the lowdown on your rights as an employee and what to do if these rights weren’t being met by your employer. This guide will be updated weekly as Justine will be joining us each week to answer your questions about unions, employee rights and other issues that are really showing face during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Listen to the full chat here, below is a written piece by Denzel De Ruysscher with the key messages of advice.


As the second week of lockdown commences it still seems that there are multiple issues amongst the workforce that leave plenty of students and workers confused and stressed out, among the most frequent questions submitted to 95bfm to be answered by Auckland Union rep Justine Sachs is “are casual workers and contractors covered by the wage subsidy?”

The short answer is yes absolutely, the long answer is that casual is a weird label, it doesn’t really exist in the law, as there arent any real casual (no pattern of work) workers in New Zealand’s workforce. Most casual workers will have a regular pattern of hours, most likely around the 15 - 20 hours a week range, which in case means most casuals will qualify for the part time subsidy. Contractors are also covered by the covid19 subsidy, with a lot of contractors even receiving their subsidy quite easily and quickly.

Now who should be applying for the subsidy: employers or employee?

The employer should be applying for the subsidy. If they are not applying for the subsidy (as mentioned in last weeks red dead redemption) you should be contacting your local union rep or talk with your co-workers and have a chat with your employer and see why they are not applying for the subsidy.

There has been some confusion around which business qualify for the subsidy, with some businesses stating that its only for small businesses. This is the furthest thing from the truth.  The wage subsidy is for all businesses not just small businesses, so long as the business can show a 30% reduction in their income, they can apply for it, if your business has been impacted by covid 19 the businesses will be able to apply for the subsidy. If the business hasn’t been impacted, then you should still be getting your normal hours and be getting paid the same amount or around the same amount you used to get pre lockdown.

Some people have also asked what they should expect if they’ve been asked to take a voluntarily and temporary pay decrease to reduce redundancies made around the company. This situation shouldn’t have an impact on your hours but if there is less work for the company than that might have an impact on your hours.

From a student perspective there’s been a few mentions that some lecturers have started increasing lecture lengths and workloads now that all the classes have moved online. If this issue is present in your class than you should have a chat with your student rep who could let the lecturer know and bring this issue to light and that whilst the world is in a global pandemic students shouldn’t be asked to do more work required than what they have signed up, as most students right now are under a lot of pressure because of the uncertainties surrounding their degrees. Another person to contact would be the course co-ordinator who can have a chat with the lecturer and let them know that this is not ok , if all that doesn’t help then have a talk with AUSA (  (Auckland University Student Association) as they can help.



During the lockdown a number of issues have started to pop up for the general population of New Zealand and these issues can essentially be broken down into three categories. The first one being issues revolving around peoples work situations, this can range from feeling unstable and uncertainty around job security to being made completely redundant and losing your income, which could see a massive increase in affected people as the lockdown period progresses and New Zealand as a whole starts to face the reality of a potential economic recession. The second issue is health and safety and how the health and safety of our health workers and essential workers is being treated and respected as these workers are on the front line of this epidemic and not a lot of employers are on the ball about this. The third and final category is the wages of these essential workers and how most of them are on a very low wage.

These issues have also trickled down into the student body and many of these students have been let go from their part time work and some aren’t even receiving help from the wage subsidy as their employers haven’t applied for it. If this has happened to you or you’re starting to find yourself in this situation, Justine has given some suggestions on how to find help for this problem.

The main solution is to contact and join a union of which there a number of unions across NZ that are there to help you throughout these difficult times, here are few that you could reach out to:

  • E Tū is a democratic union who represent tens of thousands workers across NZ spanning over six industries, they fight for fair pay and conditions on the job.
  • First Union is a union of over 29,000members across New Zealand in sectors including retail, finance, transport, logistics, manufacturing, and ambulance. They fight for social justice, decent work, safe workplaces and decent wages.
  • NZUSA, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) advocates for the common and collective concerns of students. They believe that tertiary education should be a right and not a privilege, and therefore, advocates for equal access and opportunity for all. NZUSA lobbies the Government, provides information to the general public and liaises with the media on student issues.

If you’re wanting to solve this problem without the help of a union then approach the problem with a strength in numbers approach and get a collective of you and your colleagues and get in contact with your employer and follow up on why they are not applying for the wage subsidy. The more people that are involved in the collective the harder it will be to ignore it.

Even in these strange and unprecedented times you as an employee should still be aware of your rights during the Covid-19 lockdown and one of those rights is that your employer should not be forcing you or any other employees to use your sick or holiday pay to cover your pay during your Work From Home period or period of time where your hours are being cut back. If this is happening to you please contact the CTU
and they will get around to your issue and follow up on it. It is worth noting that unions normally wouldn’t want you to join them if you’re just looking for them to help you with an existing issue but in times like these, they are making exceptions.

Now if you are an essential worker these are some things that you should be expecting from your workplaces and/or employers:

  • You should be giving personal protective equipment, at the very least gloves and masks.
  • If this isn’t happening you should immediately contact your health and safety representative as they have the power to change this situation and can help you get this protective equipment.
  • Your health and safety rep can give you a “PIN” which is a Provisional Improvement Notice and your issue will be filed with the government.

If there is still nothing being done to change your situation, then you are well within your rights to leave and walk away from your unsanitary work.


Photo credit: Stuff