By Edwin Ikani
A decent income
My dad worked as a labourer for AFFCO, and my mother was a machinist – so I grew up in a union household. There were times where my parents worked two jobs to make ends meet. As well as struggling to afford the material things we needed, we also missed out on having more guidance from Dad as he was always at work.
When people talk about low income, they’re often only thinking about the things that money can buy you, but when you have poverty wages and have to work multiple jobs – you are also time poor and the impact is on your family. Us boys used to get off track. When you have nothing, you try to go out and get something. You want to give up on education to go to work, which has a domino effect across your whole life.
Nobody should have to earn less than the Living Wage – everyone should be able to live with dignity, including what decent income enables, which is the material things, but also time with the family and the opportunity to make your mark. Fair Pay Agreements will be an obvious solution to this problem. Bargaining collectively across industries will mean we can win what we deserve.
The second principle, secure work, is just as important as well-paid work. We’ve seen more and more, both during the pandemic, but also as a response to climate and technological change. Like many workers, I’ve experienced a fair amount of job insecurity. I had a well-paid job at Ford Wheels but was made redundant. At the time, I had a baby daughter and her mum was home looking after her, so my income was our only income. This pushed us into further insecurity as I was forced to take any job going at the time.
One of the jobs was during the John Key Government, which introduced 90-day trials. At that job, I was working really hard to support our family, and on the 90th day, I got called in and let go. I’ll never forget that, and what I thought about John Key and his Government giving employers that kind of power. It left us precarious, and I took numerous jobs trying to make ends meet.
The New Zealand Income Insurance Scheme, which is being discussed now, would have meant the world to me. It would have given me enough time to get another good job and would have taken off a lot of the pressure, and provided more opportunities so I didn’t have to take whatever I could get in order to feed the family and pay the bills.
Since then, I have been working at Nestlé. During this time, Nestlé has gone through three restructures that have resulted in job losses. The company hasn’t been perfect, but they did engage in a consultation process with the union and members, and held open days with employers, brought in agencies like Work and Income to offer support, and moved people around in the plant, giving us more options. These approaches and more are needed in Just Transition agreements, alongside income insurance, to enable workers to have secure work.
A quality work environment
Decent health and safety is close to my heart. Unfortunately, when I was working at Stresscrete, where we made concrete products, we had raised issues with our boss about unsafe practices and faulty equipment, but we weren’t taken seriously. My mate, who used to pick me up for work every day, paid the price when he sadly passed away after being fatally injured by a concrete panel.
Ever since then, I’ve been focused on health and safety and am a health and safety rep at work. Involving workers is the best way to make the workplace safer, and health and safety reps help develop and promote the safety messages. We are the voice of the workers in the company.
Without workers’ voices, we have nothing. When I was younger, my dad couldn’t speak English and so he told me: you go to school and learn English so you can come to my doctor’s appointments and tell me what the doctor says. That’s when I learnt the power of communicating.
At Nestlé, I learnt about the power of a collective voice of the workers, especially during restructures. Our union was able to consult with the company and provide worker input into the process. While it was a very hard time, it was better than it would have been for both the company and the workers (and our families) because we used our voice.