Health support workers secure 14 days of sick leave in ERA win

Published 16 May 2023 | 2 min read

Support workers in New Zealand have recently achieved a significant victory in a case against healthcare provider Access Community Health. The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled in favor of the support workers, granting them 14 days of paid sick leave. This case highlights the ongoing struggle for fair entitlements and the importance of collective bargaining in ensuring the well-being of workers.

The disagreement between the support workers and Access Community Health arose from the interpretation of sick leave entitlements following the amendments made to the Holiday Act. The amendments doubled the minimum sick leave entitlement from five days to ten days. However, even before these changes, the Public Service Association (PSA) and E tū, two prominent unions, advocated for an additional four sick days for Access employees.

According to the unions, with the amended Holiday Act, support workers should be entitled to a total of 14 days of sick leave. Access Community Health, on the other hand, argued that the support workers should only receive 10 days. They claimed that the extra four days had already been accounted for within the increased minimum entitlement.

The ERA, after considering the collective agreement between the parties, ruled in favor of the unions. ERA member Claire English, in her ruling, stated, "Given the wording of the collective agreement, I have no hesitation in finding that the four days sick leave provided for... is a type of special benefit and was intended by both parties to be in addition to the statutory minimum entitlement to sick leave." English further clarified that the additional sick leave was not provided to fulfill the objectives of the Holidays Act but rather to acknowledge the value of collective bargaining.

This decision by the ERA has been warmly received by the PSA and E tū. Lesley Harry, the organizer for the PSA Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi, expressed her satisfaction, highlighting the importance of the extra four days of sick leave for support workers. She acknowledged that these workers are among the lowest paid in the community and commended the ERA's determination in protecting their rights. Harry emphasized that the decision recognizes the significant contributions made by support workers in enabling individuals to live independently at home.

Alicia Stanaway, the team leader at E tū, also emphasized the significance of sick leave for workers and the vulnerable people they assist. This victory not only benefits the workers themselves but also acknowledges the critical role they play in supporting the well-being of those in need.

The case at the ERA sheds light on the breach of trust and the subsequent resignation and retraction by Access Community Health regarding the sick leave entitlements of their support workers. It also highlights the important role played by unions in advocating for fair working conditions and the value of collective bargaining in ensuring workers' rights are protected.

Moving forward, this ruling sets a positive precedent for other workers in similar industries, reinforcing the importance of collective bargaining and recognizing the value of support workers' contributions. It serves as a reminder that employees have the right to fair treatment and entitlements, and employers must honor their commitments outlined in collective agreements.

In conclusion, the recent case at the ERA has brought attention to the issue of sick leave entitlements for support workers at Access Community Health in New Zealand. The decision in favor of the support workers, granting them 14 days of paid sick leave, is a positive outcome that recognizes the value of collective bargaining and highlights the importance of fair working conditions. This victory not only benefits the workers themselves but also acknowledges the essential role they play in supporting the well-being of vulnerable individuals. The ruling serves as a reminder to employers that honoring their commitments and fostering trust with their employees is crucial for maintaining a harmonious and productive work environment.

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