Meat workers union wants more paid sick leave

By Jessica Tyson

The NZ Meat Workers Union is calling for the legal minimum paid sick leave to increase from five days to 10.

It comes after a 10,000 strong petition was presented to the government this week and also supported by the NZ Council of Trade Unions.

NZ Meat Workers Union (NZMWU) national secretary Daryl Carran says the need for sick leave has been brought into sharp focus with Covid-19.

"It has challenged the meat industry and, through collaborative efforts and input from the government, most workers who are vulnerable or affected have been able to take the appropriate leave, thus keeping their co-workers and whanau and the industry safe from Covid-19.”

There are about 25,000 members of the NZMWU. Carran says normally seasonal workers would have to do six months or more to accumulate five days of sick leave a year.

“However, there was always quite a robust response from employers, having little regard for whānau with child care, sick kids going to daycare facilities or grandparents looking after grandchildren while their parents were working alternate shifts.”

He says employers have been really quite harsh in a lot of cases, especially in the North Island.

“Attendance was always evaluated on the five-day statutory requirements per year and people who used any beyond that were always questioned about why their attendance was poor. So along comes Covid-19 and that mindset has had to substantially change and it has changed.”

He says many companies are still using sick leave as a performance measure when it comes to deciding whether workers should be engaged in the following season.

"This means workers are less likely to take required sick leave and will present to work for fear of a black mark against their future employment.”

He says it is time for the meat industry to discuss the issue.

 "Sick leave is a basic right. No worker who is unwell should have to come to work under the threat of dismissal, especially when so many other lives are at stake," Carran says.

He says as part of the Covid-19 response, workers are being temperature tested and, if they have Covid-19 symptoms, they will be sent home.