Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: $90m goes begging

Bleak weather makes the situation tougher for Christchurch people.
Photo / Christchurch Star
Bleak weather makes the situation tougher for Christchurch people. Photo / Christchurch Star

When country dug deep for Christchurch and donated record amounts of money to help residents of the stricken city, I don't suppose we imagined that more than a year later $90 million would be sitting in bank accounts, unspent.

The Press newspaper said this week that there was just over $49 million sitting in the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust's coffers; the Red Cross had $33 million it had yet to allocate; and the Sallies had almost $10 million waiting to be put to use. And although the Christchurch Mayoral Relief Fund had targeted most of the money that was raised, there was still $2.6 million that could be going to those in need.

More than $90 million, sitting in bank accounts waiting to be allocated. What a crying shame.

Some people in Canterbury are in real need, especially given that it's been a tough start to winter. They have had snow down to sea level, biting winds and temperatures below zero.

It's the last straw for some residents, especially those bunking down in garages, crowded into makeshift accommodation or, in some extreme cases, living in cars.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee insists rents are on a par with the rest of the country and has discounted anecdotal evidence of some residents who are complaining of astronomical rent rises leaving them barely above the breadline even though most are working.

Brownlee says it's a matter of increasing housing stock and more than 100 Housing New Zealand homes will be repaired and habitable by mid-next month.

All very well and good for those who qualify for state assistance. But what about those who are barely getting by paying mortgages on houses they can't live in, plus rent for temporary accommodation, and businesspeople desperately trying to keep their heads above water and keep their companies going and their employees in work?

I know that in the scheme of a multi-billion-dollar, 25-year rebuild, $90 million doesn't seem like a lot of money to the bureaucrats. But if I were a young mum living in a barely habitable house, with only my husband's income coming in because I'd lost my job, a cash grant would provide a bit of temporary relief.

It might even allow for the luxury of a new winter coat or boots for the kids.

There needs to be a relaxation of the criteria for those eligible for grants and the agencies need to start distributing the money to Cantabs in need.

I know when I made my donation I never imagined it would be sitting in a bank account while fellow Kiwis did it tough.

Bible fight proves need for flexibility

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel for Tuni Parata, the SkyCity worker who was the centre of an employment dispute this week after she was caught carrying her Bible with her during work hours.

The Unite union has been battling a clause in the SkyCity employment contract that forbids employees from carrying mobile phones, written literature and any other items that may interfere with their engagement with customers.

Parata, who had been warned twice for carrying her palm-sized Bible in the pocket of her trousers, was dobbed in by a fellow worker who saw the Bible on the vanity in the bathroom.

She received a letter from management warning her of disciplinary action for her third violation.

I rather suspect Unite was delighted to have Parata in trouble. Here was a perfect martyr for its campaign to get rid of what it saw as an onerous and oppressive clause in the contract.

She was a sympathetic soul, far more so than a heavily-tattooed and pierced employee who took great comfort from carrying a copy of Mein Kampf in his pocket would have been.

So Parata became a pawn in a battle between her union and her employer.

In the end, SkyCity caved in and said it was confident that Parata's Bible would not distract her from her duties.

Although I don't have a Chairman's Card, I have a bit of sympathy for SkyCity on this one. If there are rules and if, as an employee, you sign a contract agreeing to those rules, don't you have to abide by them? Or is there room for some flexibility in employment contracts?

No reasonable employer, surely, should mind if someone carried their Bible, or their Koran for that matter, around with them, provided it didn't interfere with their duties.

Equally, no reasonable employee should mind if their contract required them to keep their reading material in their lockers until they were on their breaks and free to read whatever they wished.

In this case, it looks as though SkyCity could not afford another fight, given the scrutiny it has come under with its pokies-for-convention-centre deal with the Government. So it bowed to the union.

The union is delighted and Parata no doubt feels her faith in God has been well and truly rewarded.

- Herald on Sunday

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