As Tauranga’s first council meeting since the election gets underway at 1pm, councillors will be greeted with a picket line as city employees strike for two hours.
Public Service Association members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action on Tuesday.
Tauranga City Council determines staff salaries using a system that pays them less than the national median rate for their profession, and staff say they are fed up with it.
“It seems ludicrous, but for our underpaid members the problem is all too real,” says PSA organiser Angela Collier.
“Tauranga City Council first figure out what a council employee would typically be paid elsewhere in New Zealand, and then they deliberately pay them up to 10 percent less for years on end.”
Other city councils such as Dunedin or Christchurch initially use a similar pay system for new employees, but guarantee automatic progression to the full median rate after two years of training and experience.
Some Tauranga council workers say they have been underpaid through this system for over a decade, despite also being recognised by the council as high performing employees.
“It takes time to learn how to do your job efficiently and effectively, and two years is more than enough time to do that,” says Ms Collier.
“At that point it is only fair to expect you should be paid at the full and appropriate rate, and this is all our members want to happen. Unfortunately, Tauranga City Council at this point seem more interested in stubbornly clinging to a failed system.”
Tauranga City Council currently has 68 staff vacancies, 11 of which have been vacant for over a year, and the shortfall has significantly increased the workload of current staff.
In an effort to fill these vacancies, some new staff have been hired but paid the full median rate from day one, while other gaps are filled by contractors.
“Everyone deserves decent pay, including recent hires, but it is obviously unfair for a more experienced worker to be paid less than someone new,” says Ms Collier.
“If the council listen to their staff and address these problems, they have an opportunity to develop a reputation as a fair and supportive employer. This will help attract new staff far more than a reputation for paying people less than they’re worth.”