IDEA Services cuts affected support staff vote to strike, union says

E tu advocate Alistair Duncan said IDEA Services needed to take this strike vote seriously.
KASCO SANDOR/FAIRFAX NZ

E tu advocate Alistair Duncan said IDEA Services needed to take this strike vote seriously.

More than 95 per cent of IDEA Services support workers have voted walk off the job in protest of stagnant pay talks.

About 1433 workers, who work for the national disability support provider, voted to strike in secret ballots held in one of 80 stop-work meetings across the country during the past two weeks after unsuccessful pay and condition negotiations.

That represented 98 per cent of the workers who attended the meetings. Approximately 25 workers voted not to strike.

IDEA Services have been negotiating with E tu union for two new collective employment agreements since October last year.

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Union representatives have voiced its concerns that IDEA Services, the operational arm of IHC New Zealand, offered limited support to its employees, causing the negotiation to be stagnant.

They say the decision to strike was partly prompted by disability support providers' planned service cuts, announced on March 23, which would affect about five per cent of staff.

However, IHC New Zealand human resources general manager Ross Maden said pay equity was a major reason for the delay.

"We appreciate this has created uncertainty and is unsettling for our staff," Maden said.

The Government and unions had yet to reach a pay equity settlement across the disability sector, which was frustrating IDEA Services attempts to settle the agreements, he said.

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"It is disappointing that strike action is indicated, but we are hopeful that the pay equity settlement will better recognise caregivers and their valuable work.

Further work was still required to determine the details of pay equity and the level of funding providers will receive following the settlement, Maden said.

"We remain hopeful that a pay increase is coming and remain available to continue the negotiations with the union at any time."

E tū advocate Alastair Duncan said IDEA Services needed to take this vote seriously as it showed growing anxiety and concern amongst staff.

"Support workers at IDEA do a caring and professional job of supporting New Zealanders with intellectual disabilities. Sadly, they have had little support from their employer," Duncan said.

Service managers declared they would strike on Easter Saturday and Sunday, late last week, which highlighted the level of concern felt across the organisation, he said.

"There's not a lot of hope at the moment."

The union and IDEA Services planned to meet next week, when more details of the strike would be released, to discuss pay and condition negotiations.

E tu asked for two days for negotiations, but IDEA Services said no, it would only be available a day, he said.

"IDEA Services need to take the strikes seriously. It's a cry to the employer to sit up and pay attention."

About three-quarters of IDEA Services support workers, or 3000 people nationwide, were expected to attend one of the meetings.

More than 1500 union members attended the meetings.

E Tu union delegate Dinah Dolamore said the planned cuts to several services, including facility-based respite and foster care, affected the vote.

"People are feeling unsupported and that's definitely had an affect on their decision," she said.

Dolamore, who has been working as a South Canterbury support staff for the past 11 years, met with "angry and hurt" staff during the meetings.

"The meetings were not just about money, they were also trying to get better health and safety conditions and a partnership between IDEA Services and the union," she said.

Striking showed the disability support provider the concerns were not just the union, Dolamore said.

"We have members backing us."

The Ministry of Health has been approached for comment.

 - Stuff

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