“When someone works for less pay than she can live on when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.”
– Barbara Ehrenreich
It’s an indictment on our economic system that some of the most socially valuable work is also the lowest paid. Last month 70 members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and the Service and Food Workers Union Nga Ringa Tota (SFWU) employed at Aranui Home and Hospital took three days of industrial action. The majority of Aranui rest home care staff are paid the minimum wage of $13.50 an hour and over the past 11 years have only had pay increases when required by law. The workers have been in negotiations with their employer since last October.
“The Human Rights Commission’s recently released report exposed the crisis of modern day slavery occurring in residential aged care.” Said NZNO Industrial Advisor Rob Haultain. “Aranui is a very good example of this slavery. These workers are shown little respect for the complex work they do or the fact that they are the core of the employer’s business.”
“If slavery means working hard in difficult situations with challenging residents for the minimum wage then there is no question that these workers face this experience daily.”
Aranui owner Ashton Parker has interests in early childhood facilities, gynaecology services as well as residential aged care. All of those sectors receive significant state funding. In times of austerity those services are cut back or allowed to stagnate such as with this years “zero budget”. The struggle of carers at Aranui is wider than just one employer or industry, but relates to the wider situation New Zealand finds itself in four years into the great recession caused by the global financial crisis.