Pay restrictions punish public servants who protected us from Covid-19

The government has announced two more years of pay restriction for public servants, and the workers’ union says they feel betrayed.

The Public Service Association represents almost 80,000 workers, many of whom wonder why the government would punish them after a year of sacrifice, hard work and success protecting New Zealanders from Covid-19.

For the next two years, public service employers have been instructed to offer only modest pay increases to workers in low paid roles, defined as those where the average pay is below $60,000. Workers paid above $60,000 will only be offered pay increases under select circumstances.

“New Zealanders trust our public servants more than ever before, and with good reason. They are the least corrupt and most resilient government workforce on the planet,” says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.

“In our hospitals, in testing labs and on our borders, PSA members did the hard work required to push Covid-19 out of this country. It is unacceptable that after twelve months of pay restriction these workers are told to swallow it for another two years.”

The median salary for a PSA member is $59,000 a year, and eighty percent of PSA members earn below $75,000 annually.

Border and MIQ personnel have spent the past year under tremendous pressure, working above and beyond normal expectations. The median salary for a Customs Officer is $59,000 a year. Biosecurity Officers: $63,000. Quarantine Officers: $70,000. Immigration Officers: $53,000.

Government pay restrictions will be a tough pill to swallow for the border workers who keep us safe, and the many public servants who supported business owners and workers through lockdowns and their flow on effects.

“The government can tell employers not to offer pay increases, but it doesn’t seem able to limit increases in the cost of living. Public servants are more likely to rent than most New Zealanders, and both rents and house prices continue to skyrocket up,” says Ms Davies.

“It seems like governments always find an excuse to undervalue public servants and restrict their pay, whether it’s Covid-19, the Global Financial Crisis or the Great Depression. It’s unfair and it’s bad economics. Social workers and DOC rangers don’t put pay rises into offshore accounts, they spend it at local businesses and support our economy. Reduced consumer spending will help no one.”

The PSA notes that while this Pay Guidance signals the position employers will take in bargaining, the union’s own bargaining strategy is set by its members.

Almost 20,000 PSA members will bargain for new collective agreements over the coming year, and the union intends to strongly advocate for appropriate compensation following a year of sacrifice by workers.

The government has not announced restrictions on pay equity claims.

“Michael Joseph Savage is admired by many today as a leader who saw New Zealand through tough times. Among his admirers are leaders of our current government, but this morning’s announcement falls short of the example Savage set. When the First Labour Government was elected in 1935, one of its first actions was to abandon Depression-era pay cuts and restrictions imposed by previous governments on public servants,” says PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk.

“New Zealand is on the path to recovery from a crisis perhaps unrivalled since the 1930s, and it is neither sensible nor acceptable to punish today’s public servants along the way. We expect better from this government. We do not expect our members will quietly accept pay restrictions in perpetuity.”

Background

Many public service employment contracts pay staff based on what ‘band’ they fall into. Over time workers progress to higher bands, but they also receive differing amounts within their pay band depending on experience, skillset and – at times unfairly – employer discretion.

This morning, employers were told there are to be no increases to pay bands for workers who earn over $60,000 and below $100,000, and only modest progression within bands. Modest increases can also be offered in response to factors such as ‘demonstrable recruitment pressures’.

At $59,000 a year, the median PSA member’s salary is higher than the median 2019 full time salary ($53,000) in the overall New Zealand workforce. This does not mean pay rates are higher in the public than in the private sector. The higher median salary for jobs in the PSA’s areas of coverage reflects the greater requirement for higher qualifications than in the overall workforce. People working in public and community services are also on average older and have more work experience than the overall New Zealand workforce.

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