Matua LifeCare owners dispute pay claim

By Kiri Gillespie

Staff at one of Tauranga's biggest retirement villages say they were given less than a week to reapply for their jobs, with lower payrates and cutbacks, amid an ownership change.

Matua LifeCare will be taken over by Radius Care, an Auckland-based organisation with 19 other health-care facilities in New Zealand.

Radius Care disputed the concerns, saying it was introducing a tiered pay level based on aged-care qualifications and were not going in to cut wages.

Matua staff were told on Friday last week their employment contracts would be terminated by November 14, when Radius formally took over. Three of the 170 staff lost their jobs and the rest were given until Thursday to sign their contracts, though on the day it was extended to noon yesterday.

Staff, who spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times on condition of anonymity, said they would lose $200-$800 a month under the new contracts. One woman said sick days were also cut from 10 to five and staff felt it was a "take it or leave it" offer.

"The Friday before there was a meeting, the suits were there saying 'we are being taken over'. The following Friday, 'this is what we are going to do. This is how we are going to do it. Here's your contract, we will give three-and-a-half working days to decide'."

Staff would not be able to start with Radius until they signed the agreement.

Allowances such as weekend rates were also reduced. Instead of an extra $4 an hour for weekend work, staff would get an extra $7 a shift, they said: "It's not easy work and everybody works hard but people are there because they have to work and they do work hard."

Another staffer said they were "very upset and finding it difficult".

Radius general manager Brien Cree confirmed the three job losses but he expected the three non-care positions in the hospital wing to be picked up by the retirement village part of the complex and there was no restructure. He disagreed with pay concerns, referring to the introduction of a staggered pay level based on "qualifications for aged care".

Mr Cree said wages offered were similar to what was already being paid but the facility still had to be financially viable: "We are not going in there to cut wages. The facility has been losing money for a number of years so we have to look at how it operates."

Contracts sighted by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend initially showed pay cuts of up to $5 an hour but that was later reduced to a drop of about $3 an hour.

Mr Cree disputed union concerns of hours being cut back, saying rosters had not been changed.

When asked whether staff had been given enough notice, he said they had.

"Our focus is caring for the elderly. Matua's got a good name and we just want to keep that going."

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Bay of Plenty aged-care organiser Georgi Marchioni-Job said they had about 20 members affected and several had taken stress leave. Ms Marchioni-Job said some were sole providers and already struggling, "so they are very stressed and at a loss as to how they are going to manage".

While some staff would have major pay cuts, others such as registered nurses were having their 40-hour-weeks cut to no guaranteed hours beyond 16 hours a week, Ms Marchioni-Job said.

Mr Cree said that did not mean they would not get their 40 hours.

Sally Rogers who based herself in Tauranga to be with her dying mother at Matua LifeCare said she supported the staff because they gave the dying dignity and made a difference.

She said she was disgusted by the way staff had been treated.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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