Temperzone workers struggle to pay bills and support whānau after being laid off

By Jessica Tyson
Picket held on Saturday / Photo credit Jason Fell, Facebook

Workers from an Auckland air conditioning and ventilation manufacturing plant are struggling to pay their bills and support their whānau after losing their jobs.

E Tū union spokesperson Blue Rika says during the Covid-19 lockdown many workers at Temperzone had to use up their leave or take leave in advance. When the company reopened after lockdown about 90 workers were made redundant.

“A lot of them are starting to go to live with other family members. Being made redundant, they can’t afford to live in the houses they were in.”

Rika says during the lockdown staff had to apply for food grants and to the Ministry of Social Development to go on to the unemployment benefit.

“People are scrambling. People are struggling and they’ve got to find ways to pay their bills. They're out there with the other thousands of people losing their jobs,” Rika says.  

During the lockdown, Temperzone management asked workers to sign consent forms so the company could apply for the wage subsidy. That was on March 25 but the application wasn't made until May 12.

That meant workers unknowingly used up annual and other forms of leave instead of being paid the wage subsidy of $585 for four weeks.

Members have picketed outside Temperzone's plant in Māngere and an online petition, which has received more than 9000 signatures, is calling for the company to reinstate the leave and reimburse the loss of wages for affected employees.

“At the moment we’re just wanting them to reinstate the leave that they’ve taken over the level four lockdown. That would be four weeks' leave or even the members were just asking if [management] could pay the $585 for the four weeks.”

Picket held on Saturday / Photo credit Jason Fell, Facebook

One picket was held on Saturday with people holding signs with messages including, "Use leave or family starves" and "We paid our own lockdown left out to dry by Temperzone."

Rika says what management has done is not illegal but is morally wrong.

“What they were told was the company said: ‘We gave you a choice to use your leave or not.’ We believe there wasn’t a choice at all. It was 'feed my family or pay my bills or not feed my family and pay my bills.' So what kind of choice is that?”

Many of the workers are Māori and Pacific, including some who are said to have more than 25 years’ service and are close to retirement.

“It’ll be a lot harder for them to find jobs just purely on their age which is not a good thing because these are some of the best workers we’ve got in Auckland. They come from a manufacturing background and they could slip into anywhere, the most loyal workers you can get. For some of them at that retirement age people, unfortunately, look at them thinking they’re a bit over the hill.”

The company told Stuff Covid-19 had significantly impacted its business and it would look to reinstate previous employees when it returned to growth. It also says it did not initially believe it was eligible for the subsidy. 

The company says workers were given the option of taking annual leave or leave without pay.