Kitchen staff supporters stage protest
Supporters of Southland Hospital kitchen staff have staged a silent protest at a health board meeting amid fears their jobs are on the line.
Kitchen staff at the hospital fear they may lose their jobs as a result of major cost-cutting across district health boards throughout the country.
Crown-owned company Health Benefits Ltd was established in 2010 with the goal of saving district health boards money.
It is rolling out a programme to save billions of dollars in the finance, procurement and supply chains and food, linen and laundry services at the country's 20 DHBs.
Health Benefits Ltd says the goal is improve efficiency and quality in the non clinical areas so the cost savings can go towards frontline medical services.
Anna Huffstutler, Southland organiser for the Service and Food Workers Union, which represents the hospital's kitchen staff, said she understood a single food contract for all district health boards was being proposed.
"It's looking likely the food service to the patients [at Southland Hospital] will be contracted out."
The worst-case scenario was that all 24 kitchen staff at Southland Hospital would lose their jobs, she said.
However, Health Benefits Ltd spokesman Mark Reynolds said no decisions had been made.
A priority of the programme was to improve the overall quality of food to ensure good nutritional value for all patients, he said.
Health Benefits Ltd would work closely with the health boards and staff before putting forward a business case in relation to the food contracts, he said.
Regardless of the decision made, the kitchen workers were protected, in that they could move with the work if it was moved elsewhere, he said.
Southland Hospital kitchen assistant Karena Kelland, an onsite union delegate, said the workers were uncertain about their futures and wanted answers. As a result, the union had asked the Southern District Health Board if it could attend yesterday's health board meeting to express their concerns about the possibility of the kitchen work being contracted out.
However, the board rejected the union's request, saying there were other "appropriate" channels for the workers' concerns to be heard.
Unhappy with the response, Huffstutler and five others, including Labour Party candidate for Invercargill Lesley Soper and Green Party candidate for Clutha/Southland Rachael Goldsmith, attended the meeting as a silent protest.
Most wore T-shirts with a line crossed through the letters "HBL" on them, indicating they were against the major cost-cutting measures being proposed.
They left when the meeting went into the public-excluded part of discussions.
After the meeting, Kelland indicated the board should listen to their concerns. "We are employed by them and they are voted in by the public . . . our job security is at risk, some of us are sole income earners."