MPs, residents join aged care workers' strike

Opposition MPs and rest home residents will today join picket lines across the country as 1500 aged care workers strike for a cost of living pay rise.

The workers from Oceania Group rest homes, which is owned by Australian equity company Macquarie Global Infrastructure Fund, join workers from the Port of Auckland and meatworks company Affco also taking industrial action this week.

The strike has been organised by the Service and Food Workers Union and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation after the Oceania Group refused to meet the workers' claim for a 3.5 per cent cost of living increase, offering 1 per cent a year for three years.

Oceania is New Zealand's largest rest home chain and owns 20 facilities throughout the country.

Striking caregivers in Upper Hutt will this morning be joined by Labour's MP for Rimutaka Chris Hipkins and its Mana MP Kris Faafoi, as well as Green list MPs Denise Roche and Catherine Delahunty.

MPs will also be on picket lines in Auckland.

Roche, who is the Greens' industrial relations spokeswoman, said nurses and rest home workers were among some of the poorest-paid workers in New Zealand.

Many Oceania caregivers earned $13.61 an hour, just over the $13.50 minimum wage.

"These workers do the job because they are passionate about caring for the residents and believe the work they do makes a difference."

Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton says Macquarie Global Infrastructure Fund was more interested in returns to its shareholders than about decent care for the elderly.

There would be public sympathy for the workers today as many people had parents and grandparents in rest homes.

"What will touch a nerve with the public is that some of the residents are actually joining the workers this morning.

"So they are concerned the workers have only been offered 1 per cent and will have their overtime pay slashed."

The Oceania strike will be followed by action tomorrow by Affco 776 unionised meatworkers who were locked out of five plants after collective contract negotiations broke down.

About 300 Ports of Auckland wharfies are on a three-week strike and demanding a return to mediation to discuss concerns about the casualisation of their work.

Fenton said the current political climate was emboldening employers to take extreme action such as locking out staff.

"The Government could send an indication it wants better industrial relations and better work in New Zealand.

"Instead what they have done is send a signal that they are going to weaken workers' rights and collective bargaining."

There would be more strikes if the Government didn't change the message, Fenton said.

"These are unionised workers who are standing up for themselves, there are many thousands more that can't."

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said it was natural to have tensions between employees and businesses during tough economic times.

The Government expected disputed parties to enter into negotiations in good faith.

"That duty of good faith applies to both sides. No one likes to see strikes or lockouts."

Wilkinson urged the parties to make use of the Department of Labour's mediation services and if that failed, to go through the Employment Relations Authority.