A bank workers union leader says Westpac's move to give staff five days a year of wellbeing leave is a step in the right direction but workers wanted six weeks annual leave instead.
Westpac New Zealand has announced a shake-up in its leave offering for its 4500 workers from today with the wellbeing leave, increases to parental leave and an extension in what its bereavement leave will cover as well as an extra day of Covid leave.
The wellbeing leave is on top of four weeks annual leave but is being given to staff on a use it or lose it basis, meaning staff can not accrue the leave or have it paid out if they leave the bank.
Marc Figgins, Westpac NZ general manager of human resources and communications, said the bank had listened to feedback from employees about how to improve their work/life balance and had also talked to First Union about the issue.
"The last 18 months have been hugely challenging for our employees. They've adjusted to life in a pandemic while also helping customers through the financial stress and uncertainty caused by Covid-19."
Figgins said as a society New Zealanders were now much more aware of the importance of wellbeing and was placing a higher premium on being mentally and physically well.
"By offering this leave we're giving our people more opportunity to balance work time and family time, without having to choose between the two. We know that is important to them and we also believe a healthier workforce is good for business."
But Callum Francis, the finance spokesman for First Union, said the wellbeing leave had come through its collective bargaining with the bank after it asked Westpac to match BNZ's six weeks annual leave.
BNZ increased its annual leave from four to six weeks in 2020.
"We went into bargaining with them and proposed six weeks. Members had said they were adamant it shouldn't be anything less than five and originally their wellbeing leave actually came with a number of conditions - it wasn't just about wellbeing."
Francis said in the original conditions workers would have had to use three weeks of their annual leave first before being allowed to apply for the wellbeing leave.
The bank had also proposed if the minimum entitlements under the Holidays Act were to increase that Westpac would consider the wellbeing leave as part of annual leave, not on top of it.
"We had them drop that and the three weeks because we said it absolutely wasn't going to fly."
Francis said it would have preferred the bank to have given staff six or even five weeks annual leave.
"Annual leave is a far better entitlement. They are obviously trying to ring-fence it and manage their liability rather than provide a better benefit to employees.
"The wellbeing leave is a step in the right direction. I think other than that an increase in someone's annual leave is much more favourable for employees. It is a better benefit but in this current environment employers should be supporting the wellbeing and health and safety of their employees. Westpac is going down the right path but they could and should do more."
Westpac is also increasing the parental leave top-up payment for eligible employees from 22 weeks to 26 weeks. Under this entitlement, Westpac NZ tops up the Government subsidy to their full salary amount and will give partners four weeks' paid leave which they can take up until the first birthday of the child.
It has also extended its bereavement leave policy so that if an employee or their partner suffers from a miscarriage or has a stillborn baby, they're entitled to five days' leave.
If an employee loses a sibling, grandparent or grandchild they will also now be entitled to an extra three days' leave, bringing the total amount to six days' leave.
Francis said primary carer's leave pay top-up was "marvellous" but it did come with certain conditions such as the employee staying with the company for a certain period of time or they would need to pay the top-up back.
Ryan Boyd, social media manager at Westpac, said increase in partner leave had come as a nice surprise and was the perfect timing given his wife was expecting their second child in early November.
"I had already organised to take a month off, but I had to use a couple of weeks annual leave. This is really good to do instead."
It meant he could save his annual leave for further down the track. "We have a 4-year-old daughter as well ... I want to take the pressure off my wife Cindy and also not ignore our daughter as well because she is going to be wanting attention."
He said at the moment his wife was a nurse which meant she was going out to work while he was working from home while also looking after his daughter.
"I know it is hard to juggle work and parenting. Easing off the work responsibilities makes things a lot less stressful."