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The Service and Food Workers Union mourns the loss of Sandra Moran, a great friend and legal adviser, who passed away today.

Sandra was associated with the Service and Food Workers Union and one of its predecessors, the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union, since the early 1980s.

Sandra was not a radical unionist nor politically very left-wing, and when you looked at her dressed up to the nines you would think that she had more in common with the big business types than low-paid workers. However, beneath that soft exterior there was an undying hatred of injustice and the battle of the “small person” against the increasingly powerful forces in New Zealand that are hell-bent on steamrollering them underfoot in their quest for greater power, control and wealth.

When public hospital cleaners, orderlies and food service workers were becoming better organised in the 1980s Sandra won a couple of cases that reinforced their right to “full pay” when they were sick on weekends, public holidays and overtime periods. As with all legal victories for low-paid workers, there were comments that this victory would bring the public hospital system to its knees. It did not do this, and in 2003 was incorporated into the Holidays Act for all New Zealand workers as “relevant daily pay”.

In the early 1990s, when the unionised workforce suffered the single most vicious attack in its history, Sandra led the union legal battle to restore basic worker rights to representation in the workplace and to stop some of the more extreme employer strategies to slash employment conditions.

In SFWU v South Pacific Hotel Corporation the Employment Court ruled that workers had the right to have their union representative to discuss union matters at their work station, not in an employer-designated space away from their work station. Following Sandra’s withering cross-examination of the employer’s Human Resources Manager the Court fined him personally $10,000 for his actions in preventing union access to Wellington’s James Cook Hotel. His description under cross-examination of the union as “an interfering mother-in-law” brought home to the Court his absolute disdain for the union and the rights of union members in his employment.

In Witehira vs Presbyterian Support Northern Sandra was again at her best to stop a new employer strategy to slash employment conditions for support workers in their aged care facilities.

The PSS strategy, cynically called a “partial lockout”, was to cut out the workers’ weekend rates and allowances but force them to come to work. The Employment Court had earlier affirmed this legal strategy in Paul vs IHC, but this did not deter Sandra.

Sandra successfully convinced the Employment Court that the lockout was illegal and its requirement for locked out workers to keep on working under their reduced conditions a form of serfdom.

These two victories were not just important for the workers at the James Cook Hotel and Presbyterian Support Northern but encouraged unionised workers to challenge, both industrially and legally, the all-out offensive on conditions that they had built up in the previous 100 years.

The Service and Food Workers Union, through these and other cases, built a strong relationship with Sandra and Oakley Moran. While Sandra has not been required recently to front for us in the courts, she has always been behind the scenes offering support for the work that we do.

Occasionally she returned to the Employment Court, such as a case a couple of years ago (Scott vs IDEA Services Ltd), when she defended a SFWU member dismissed for allegedly assaulting intellectually disabled people in his care. In this case IDEA Services was trying to overturn an Employment Relations Authority decision that had declared the worker to be unjustifiably dismissed and awarded him substantial compensation.

Sandra’s cross-examination of the first two witnesses for IDEA Services (the manager and a clinical psychologist) was so effective that IDEA Services asked the Court for permission to withdraw their case. Sandra asked the Court to refuse permission so that the witnesses for the worker could be called and he could respond to this “baseless assault on his integrity” that had been shown by the two IDEA witnesses.

While the SFWU member settled his case with a massive increase in his compensation payment, it was the injustice against Mr Scott, one of Sandra’s “little people”, being accused and convicted in a Kangaroo Court that got up her nose.

Sandra was educated in the Catholic schooling system and we had many conversations about the social justice values that were shown in students that came through this system.

While there are many people in the history of our union who have played a part in the development and protection of worker rights, Sandra Moran stands proudly alongside them and will constantly live in our memory.

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