IDEA Services staff consider possible strike action
Disability support staff workers are at "crisis level" in South Canterbury after about 10 per cent of workers left in the last 12 months, it has been claimed.
Many of the support staff workers, who work for IDEA Services supporting people with intellectual disability, began voting on possible strike action on Monday.
About three-quarters of IDEA Services support workers, or 3000 people nationwide, were expected to attend one of 80 stop work meetings across the country during the next two weeks after unsuccessful pay and condition negotiations.
IDEA Service chief operating officer Janine Stewart said the organisation was unable to make a pay offer at this time.
E Tu union delegate Dinah Dolamore said the region's support staff were at "crisis level", extremely short staffed and many support staff workers experienced some form of abuse daily.
Dolamore, who has been working as a South Canterbury support staff for the past 11 years, said this coupled with low incomes and losing time with family meant many experienced workers were leaving.
There were approximately 120 staff across the region and she could think of 12 staff members who decided to leave within the past year.
Speaking as a union delegate, she said "people have just had enough".
Staff were being replaced, but they were not being retained, she said.
It was disruptive for their clients as new people walked in and out of their lives, she said.
Dolamore had reached "as high as I'm going to go in support work", yet her hourly rate was still below the living wage, which is $19.80.
"Every support worker is paid below the living wage."
Many support workers took extra shifts to cater for the low staff numbers and boost up their pay, but it left many overworked and exhausted, Dolamore said.
E Tu advocate Alistair Duncan said: "How can we ask people to support vulnerable people if they're not supported themselves".
While the organisation claimed pay offers could not be made with an ongoing equal pay case, the two previous bargaining meetings still resulted in an offer, he said.
"Pressure is building over constant reviews and roster changes but IDEA won't agree to decent job protection."
He saw the stop work meetings as issuing a "please explain" to IDEA Services.
"Five months on, IDEA has also yet to respond to our health and safety proposals."
IDEA Services chief operating officer Janine Stewart, in an emailed statement, said the Collective Employment Agreement for its support workers expired in October.
"We have attended three negotiation sessions - five days in total - and continue to do so in good faith," Stewart said.
"We await updates around pay equity and are unable to make a pay offer at this time."
When asked why the union was not more involved in its health and safety programme, Stewart said IDEA Services were happy to discuss this issue with the union and staff.
"It's a top priority for us," she said.
"When it comes to roster changes, we meet all obligations and consult to try to meet the needs of everyone involved."
Ministry of Health (MoH) funds part of the organisation's services.
MoH disability support services group manager Toni Atkinson said IDEA Services received $3.6 million for the South Canterbury region this financial year.
This was $400,000 more than the previous financial year.
"Funding levels for providers can change as the number of people accessing services changes," Atkinson said.
"The Government is in ongoing negotiations for care and support workers in the disability, aged care and home/community support sectors. As part of the disability sector, IDEA Services are one of the employers covered by these negotiations."
IDEA Services has received $151.9 million in funding this financial year nationally, which was up from the previous year when it received $143.5 million.
"Generally, MoH funded disability support services receive an annual price increase to recognise increases in costs, including wage pressures," Atkinson said.
"The Ministry will continue to communicate with IDEA Services about its services which will include any contingency planning in order to ensure minimal impact of any planned industrial action on its service users."