New Zealanders who need advice from Inland Revenue face long wait times and call disconnections, but instead of training more permanent staff the department intends to hire almost 500 people through temping agencies to fill the gap.
The temp agency staff are supplied by companies like Madison Recruitment, and receive lower pay and worse conditions than colleagues who enjoy the terms and conditions of the Public Service Association collective agreement.
The PSA is currently mounting a legal challenge against Inland Revenue, arguing the Madison workers are in fact employed by the department and deserve equal pay for equal work.
“We are deeply opposed to the growth of a second-class workforce in the public sector, and we will do everything in our power to oppose it,” says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.
“Not only does it undermine the pay and conditions of our members and their collective agreement, it is also unfair for the Madison workers. They are hardworking, skilled and valued by their colleagues at Inland Revenue, and their terms of employment should reflect this.”
Madison staff have previously been hired on 90-day trials and paid less than the living wage, and have not been entitled to meal allowances or overtime their co-workers receive.
Inland Revenue did not inform the union in advance of its plans to hire hundreds of additional agency staff, but union delegates on site raised the alarm after finding out.
“We are not opposed to a degree of flexible staffing, and our collective agreement with Inland Revenue allows fixed term staff to be hired if needed,” says Ms Davies.
“The point is those fixed term staff must receive equal pay and conditions for equal work. Unfortunately it seems Inland Revenue prefers to instead use Madison Recruitment to exploit cheap labour, and this short-sighted approach will undermine the department’s ability to meet growing community demand for its services.”
State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said in 2018 the government wants the public service to “re-build their in-house capability and invest in permanent and long term staff, rather than spend millions on temporary contractors”.
There is also an expectation from government that public sector employers will support collective bargaining and the Living Wage.
Inland Revenue currently employs over 5000 staff, about a third of whom are either temporary, fixed term, contingent or contractors.
“As New Zealanders we have a right to expect our public services are the best in the world, ready and equipped to help us when we need them,” says Ms Davies.
“Inland Revenue must ensure it has enough skilled and experienced staff in place to do this. Temping agencies will always be more focused on clipping the ticket for a quick buck than serving our long term community interests. It’s time for Madison to go.”