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Managed isolation cleaners should be paid a living wage

Written By: - Date published: 7:47 am, February 12th, 2021 - 39 comments
Categories: covid-19, Living Wage, uncategorized, Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

There is a group of workers in Aotearoa New Zealand whose jobs are potentially more important than director general of health Ashley Blomfield in terms of keeping us safe from Covid.  They are the cleaners of the hotels where managed isolation occurs.  Every day their job is to make sure that this evil pernicious virus does not escape.

They sacrifice a lot to do their job.  They intentionally social distance themselves from others, keep away from their churches and social institutions, and stay distant from rest homes and their families.

When working if they are cleaning a room that has been occupied by someone with Covid they have to complete the job before leaving, no matter how long it takes.

If you want to hear the effects of the job and the dedication they bring to the job this interview between Rowan Quinn at RNZ and an unnamed cleaner is a must listen.

Unite Union has been running a campaign for all cleaners to be paid a living wage.  From its website:

Unite Union, which represents hospitality workers including hotel workers in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, calls on the Government to pay all essential workers a living wage.

“The Government has recently introduced $1000 fines for border workers who refuse a Covid-19 test, but some of these workers are only employed on, or just above, the minimum wage at hotels under government contracts” says John Crocker, Industrial Officer at Unite.

“This “stick, rather than carrot” approach goes completely against the Government’s “be kind” ethos it has been advocating for months.”

“We have also seen the Prime Minister announce that the security services at MIQ facilities would be brought in-house under MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] and that these workers would be paid a living wage. This principle should be extended.” said Crocker

“During the level 4 lockdown we saw which workers were really essential to our society, and a lot of them are paid below the living wage. The Government has an opportunity to do the right thing here and pay the workers on the front line against Covid-19 the living wage that they deserve.”

Unite Union also calls for guaranteed paid sick leave for front line workers. “No one should have to choose between going hungry and jeopardising our national public health response” says Crocker.

A living wage is the absolute minimum we should be doing for these workers.  And they should be thanked for their efforts which have seen no more than a handful of problems after over 100,000 returnees have gone through managed isolation.

39 comments on “Managed isolation cleaners should be paid a living wage ”

  1. Ad 1

    +1000 Mickey

  2. Sanctuary 2

    Totally agree, they are effectively working in a bio-warfare environment on minimum wage.

  3. Anker 3
    • Whatever they are paid double it. And the nurses salaries too. It still won’t be adequate imho.
    • MIQ should be paid special allowance as well, as reports about people from MIQ missing out on hugs, socialising etc. it is human and probably a very good idea that are cautious around people working at the facilities
  4. Stuart Munro 4

    Everybody should be paid a living wage. How did the country of Sam Parnell ever come to doubt it? And isolation workers should be paid not adequately, but generously – unlike the hordes of faux commercial wretches who have parasitized our public services, they are performing an important and valuable function, and that must be recognized.

    A country that has knighthoods to spare for scoundrels like Key ought to have OBEs at least for the ones who hold the line against an implacable invisible enemy.

    • Foreign waka 4.1

      Agree, everybody should be paid a living wage that is a corner stone of people participating rather than languishing . But since the economic experiment of Rogernomics, the policies have been reverted to Dickensian times and the population is more and more turning inwards with a gradual increase of envy and trying to secure "a share" of the invisible pie. Couple this with some overseas "investment" that is the new land grab, water rights grab and you have the perfect set up for some nasty greed. Unfortunately, being kind, hugging and saying all will be well will not be a remedy for this cul de sac of greed. NZ needs a balanced policy that looks at the future well beyond election time. Infrastructure, safe supply of water, roading plans, engineering, housing etc…with a population of lets say 8 Mil.

    • Enough is Enough 4.2

      I have no idea why we ever argue about lifting people to the "living wage". Employers will pay the minimum they are legally required to.

      So the answer is quite simple isn't it. The minimum wage should be the living wage. If people can't live on the minimum wage then that needs to be lifted.

      How can this government argue against that. And if they can't argue against that, then why won't they legislate for it?

  5. Janet 5

    All people working should receive a wage that adequately covers living. The contrast against the news earlier this week re not all government CEOs taking a 20 % cut in their astronomical salaries is stark! Would they do the cleaners job at any price let alone at less than a living wage ? Doubt it. So while probably the cleaners would not be able to do the CEOs’ jobs , they are just as necessary and essential to society as CEOs and the likes are . High earners have usually been “gifted by God “ with more capability, higher intellect or some special talent. They were born lucky. They have been gifted a wider range of life opportunities to follow in life. That is why I say no man’s paid worktime is worth more than 5 times that of another in society.

  6. Chris 6

    "Managed isolation cleaners should be paid a living wage"

    Whoever came up with this idea certainly has their sights set high.

    • Treetop 6.1

      Can you explain yourself.

      Are you saying a living wage is to much or to little?

      • Chris 6.1.1

        Too little. For many a move from the minimum wage to the living wage would still leave reliance on a social welfare benefit, including a need to receive hardship assistance.

        • Nic the NZer

          If this is the case how has the living wage been allowed to fall to a level where hardship supplements are needed as well? It and the campaign badly loses its meaning if its not enough to live on.

          • Chris

            I guess mickysavage answers that question when he says "A living wage is the absolute minimum we should be doing for these workers". The level chosen by members of the living wage campaign is no doubt part of their strategy, which we can only guess is based on a view that sees setting it too high as off-putting to employers and the general public alike. The issue of strategy is a separate issue, though. The reality is that the living wage has so far been set at not much more than the minimum wage. Whether that's adequate or not is another issue again. I suspect it isn't! It will be interesting to see what the rate of next living wage will be.

    • mickysavage 6.2

      Did you read where I said "A living wage is the absolute minimum we should be doing for these workers"?

  7. Treetop 7

    I have always had the view that cleaners are important in a hospital. They are probably more important in MIQ than in a hospital. $30 minimum an hour should be paid and allowances such as meals and travel.

    • Foreign waka 7.1

      You need to remember that the companies competing in a tender process are large corporations and not your little corner shop. Whilst the government departments are demanding that cleaners on their premise are paid the living wage, they also have an obligation to awarded the lowest tender. This is to save money as cleaning is seen as an expense. But since cleaners are employed on hours that van be anything from 1 to 40 the living wage will not give them a living income. These are two different things. What should be changed is that every adult person should have an inflation adjusted living income. If this cannot be met by getting enough work and we all know how that is measured, than the taxpayer has to top this up. And to this extend the companies earning mega incomes for shareholders and getting millions of taxpayer money should have an appropriate increase in taxes. Cos you wont get anything out of people working 10 hours a week for $ 24.00. Something clearly needs a rethink, and not only for cleaners.

      • Treetop 7.1.1
        1. Which legislation overrides the other health, pandemic or employment?

        It cannot be left up to the hotel to pay peanuts for vital work?

        1. Does there need to be a separate contract for pandemic work for cleaners, nurses, security?

        At some stage another pandemic could occur.

        • Foreign waka

          If you have a robust underlying system that makes sure that taxpayers can actually afford all those demands and priority is given to need and not want it is very doable. For everybody regardless of what their profession is. If you have an emergency, everybody is affected. So you have to ask those who can hold out to do so whereas helping those without any means and assist. Its like keeping a balance. Ah yes, honesty comes into play. Hence I am completely against billions being paid to corporation but rather see the money paid direct to those in need in case of another emergency.

          BTW. The government actually is actually asking for a living wage (hourly rate) for cleaners, security etc. working for numerous departments. But you have missed the point: Many of minimum/living wage hourly rate earners do n o t have enough hours to get to a minimum Income.

  8. KSaysHi 8

    The should be paid much more. Hidden heroes.

  9. weka 9

    I'm not surprised but I am shocked. Are the cleaners on contracts with the government? Or employed by private businesses?

    And what's with the $1,000 fine? Surely if it's a condition of the job, then there's no need to fine, just run the normal employment processes for someone that refuses.

    • Patricia Bremner 9.1

      Hi Weka, it appears Hotels still pay the minimum if they can get away with it. So how about Praise for those groups and Hotels who pay the "Living Wage" or better. Shame the rest by naming the Best!!

      • weka 9.1.1

        so the hotels hire the staff and the govt gives the hotel the contract for MIQ but doesn't stipulate a living wage. Something not right here.

        Are there hotels paying a living wage or better?

    • Foreign waka 9.2

      Government departments are asking for cleaners on their site to be paid living wage rates, but it means nothing! Nothing at all if you only get work for 3 hours a day despite asking for more. Tenders managed by Government and accepted are the lowest bid. You do the maths.

  10. RedBaronCV 10

    Yeah they should be properly paid. But what can we expect when there is little enforcement of workplace rules – relying on individuals taking expensive action – and the endless outsourcing. Time to extend opt out unionism to all overseas owned employers and companies with more than x number of employees. Bu that would be too much for labour who keep going on about some alternate scheme that is being negotiated but never seems to happen? Any one know where this is going?

    • Descendant Of Smith 10.1

      8 hour working day, 40 hour working week, time and a half after hours and Saturdays, double time on weekends. Once a cornerstone of Labour policy. How low they have sunk!

      Ever notice some trades bill you for this on the weekends but don't actually pay this to the workers doing the work!

  11. Kiwijoker 11

    Absolute rubbish Micky, The Cleaners should be able to sustain their lavish lifestyles on trickle down alone.

  12. Sanctuary 12

    I reckon we need a "Pandemic Campaign Star" once this is done –


    This should be available to anyone who meets certain criteria, of which the cleaning staff would obvious meet.

    Then a cleaner would have a medal to wear on ANZAC day or whatever to proudly show they served their country during a dangerous time. I reckon people would love it.

    • Patricia Bremner 12.1

      A pension should go with it for Special Services on the "Front Line"

      • Stuart Munro 12.1.1

        A paid holiday might not go amiss – it might tide a few tourism operators over too.

    • mickysavage 12.2

      I really hope that the first person to be vaccinated is a cleaner. And that the country takes the time to celebrate the fact that they will no longer be so vulnerable because of their work.

      • Anne 12.2.1

        I was thinking the same thing yesterday. Better still, the TV cameras record it for all to see – a cleaner taking precedence over some professional toffee nose. That should open a few eyes.

  13. Rae 13

    These people are performing skilled and extremely important tasks. Not only should they have been receiving the living wage from the outset, but they should have some sort of danger money thrown in as well.

    These are the silent heroes we don't get to see

  14. Siobhan 14

    Well, we live in a country where many firemen and ambulance drivers are volunteers….it would seem the greater the personal sacrifice and heroic requirements and risks of your job the less our market economy values your labour…but meantime…are you suggesting the Labour Market is wrong in its wage offerings?

    Next thing you know we'll be talking about how the Housing Market is somehow wrong.

    We'll be Turning Labour Left before you know it…

  15. Darien Fenton 15

    Totally agree with Unite, but your pic is one of E Tu members. Hotel workers are not cleaners ; they are housekeepers. The difference is the job they do and the agreements between commercial cleaning and hotel agreements. That said, I agree they should be paid Living Wage.

  16. RedLogix 16

    At last a thread on which everyone pretty much agrees.

    Full marks to Unite for pushing for change here.

    • Morrissey 16.1

      At last a thread on which everyone pretty much agrees.

      With the possible exception of one person who, as a National MP in September 2013, reduced a cleaning woman to tears in public….

      National MP Tau Henare has apologised on Twitter for saying a Parliament cleaner should give her job to someone else if she didn't like it.

      The comment yesterday followed a tearful plea from cleaner Mareta Sinoti who spoke in front of the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee.

      Ms Sinoti cleans all 130 toilets in Bowen House each night and says cleaners do their best to clean the whole building given a number of cleaners had been cut.

      Later in the day, Mr Henare told reporters: "If she doesn't want the job she should give it to someone else".

      Last night Mr Henare took to Twitter and responded to some of the criticisms he'd received for the comment.

      " […] I apologise to the lady and to all those that haven't really got a choice in jobs. Aroha Mai. My Bad."

      He also says he used to be a cleaner at the Auckland public library. "It was 1000 times worse than Bowen house. I loved my job and never moaned."….

      More, if you can bear Tau Henare….


  17. Morrissey 17

    Henare's mean and dismissive treatment of that woman was seven and a half years ago, not one hundred and thirty-five years ago.

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