Not even pouring rain could stop a group of local rest home workers walking off the job last week to protest against proposed changes to penalty rates.
Kaitaia's Claud Switzer Residential Care and a number of its staff are currently at loggerheads regarding a new individual pay agreement that would not include the current weekend and night-shift allowances.
The rest home and E Tū union have been in negotiations since earlier this year, following the announcement of plans to scrap the penalty rates.
Kam Wijohn has been working at Claud Switzer as a healthcare assistant for around 11 years and can only work weekends as she has to care for her three mokopuna (grandchildren) full-time.
She brought a bag of essential items she said represented the food her grandchildren would miss out on if the changes were enforced.
"This is the equivalent of the food I would be giving my grandchildren each week," Wijohn said.
"They've been in my full-time care now for the past three years, so working weekends is the only time I can work.
"This money really helps to tie us over each week, and if it's taken away it will make things a lot tighter at home."
Carol Rankin is also a healthcare assistant at Claud Switzer and has worked at the rest home for almost 13 years.
She too works weekends and said she would likely stop doing so should the changes go ahead.
"We stand to lose a lot of money if the weekend penalty is taken away," Rankin said.
"This strike is not a reflection of our job, there are people (residents) in there who we love and adore.
"To take this step is quite emotional for us, and it's the first time I've had to strike. I believe it was absolutely unnecessary.
"We're not asking Switzer to pay us more, we're asking that they don't take away money that we are already earning."
Margaret McQuade is an E Tū union delegate and has worked at the rest home for 15 years as a healthcare assistant.
She said while she wouldn't be directly impacted by the changes, she wanted to show support for those who would be.
"I only work Monday to Friday, so these changes won't make any difference to me, but I still don't think this new agreement is fair for my colleagues," McQuade said.
"Inflation is going up, everything is going up, yet they want to reduce wages!
"We just want to be treated with respect and ask that management communicates with us properly to fix this."
E Tū union Northland co-ordinator Annie Tothill said workers deserved to retain their current allowances and they would not budge until a full agreement had been met.
"E tū has not experienced consistent good-faith behaviour by this employer during bargaining. On each occasion, as is our legal obligation to do so, this employer has been advised of the union's concerns," Tothill said.
"The last occasion was as recent as last week when the employer changed their verbal account during mediation compared to what they provided in writing, by including add-ons not discussed.
"These would further disadvantage our members and undermine minimum requirements of the Holidays Act."
According to Claud Switzer Residential Care Memorial Trust Board secretary Eddie Aicken, the new individual employment agreement incorporated three main components- a significant increase in the hourly rate of lower-paid employees, an increase in the night shift allowance, and a gradual reduction in the weekend allowance.
He said the rest home was not trying to remove allowances altogether, but to bring its pay rate into alignment with other residential care providers in order to remain viable.
"Over the last five years, and as a result of the 2017 Pay Equity Settlement, the base hourly rates of care staff increased by around 40 to 60 per cent, depending on the length of service and education," he said.
In the Thursday edition of the Northland Age, Tothill said a majority of staff supported the strike action and that staff had been told that the cut to wages was to accommodate building improvements.
Aicken said that was not the case and disputed that statement.
"Claims that the Trust is trying to cut wages to pay for building improvements are a mischievous misinterpretation of the need to maintain a modest surplus to support future expansion and has no merit," Aicken said.
"All businesses must maintain an operating surplus, or sooner or later they will go out of business.
"For a large national union to claim we are trying to make their members pay for new care facilities is an insult to the wonderful support Switzer has had and continues to receive from its community.
"Although the E Tū Union represents a minority of the staff at Switzer, the Trust and CEO will continue to attempt to negotiate in a business-like manner to try and achieve fair outcomes for all."
Negotiations are currently still underway, with the next strike action scheduled for Saturday, October 30 from 8am to 10am.