A few of us on the left have issues with the public service wage freeze announced by Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins yesterday.
A freeze for the wealthiest of public servants I suspect most of us would accept if not be rather happy about. But by setting the salary level so low, at $60,000 per annum, the threat is that previous gains for teachers and nurses will be undermined. Especially for the medical system the implications are dire.
From Jordan Bond at Radio New Zealand:
Unions are worried that doctors and nurses will move to Australia following the government’s freeze on public sector salaries.
Under new government rules, three-quarters of people working in the public sector are unlikely to get a salary bump until at least 2024.
No government employee earning over $100,000 a year will get a pay rise until 2024. And those with salaries with between $60,000 and $100,000 will need to prove exceptional circumstances.
It’s not only bureaucrats in Wellington – it includes border workers, hospital staff, prison guards and social workers.
Sarah Dalton of senior doctors’ union The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists said it was a poor decision by the government.
“It’s not a reasonable ask for our health workforce to say ‘hey, just go backwards. But by the way, can you run these extra clinics, can you deal with these overloaded emergency departments, can you cope with this not fit-for-purpose building?’ It’s just too many things, and it suggests that this health workforce isn’t valued,” Dalton said.
The PSA is not pleased. From Newshub:
PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk is angered by the pay freeze.
“The public service has never had more expectation put on them, and not only is that expectation weighing on their shoulders but now they’re being slapped in the face by being told that they’re not going to get decent pay increases.”
The pay freeze has to hurt that much more when private contractors are being called in to do the work of public servants and paid eye-watering sums – the cost of them has ballooned out to nearly a billion dollars a year.
If it was on those earning over $200,000 I would not batter an eyelid. But $60,000 seems very low.
The timing is poor. The Police Association had just started discussing with Police Officers what stance they should adopt in this year’s negotiations. How can it be good faith bargaining for one side to suddenly change the rules?
The implications for pay parity are not at this stage clear.
And there are two other recent pieces of news that cast doubt on the need to do this. Grant Robertson revealed yesterday that there was $936 million dollars of unspent money tagged for Covid expenditure that could be applied to savings. And the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7%, ahead of market expectations. Seems like all of this stimulus spending is having a beneficial effect.
I anticipate the public sector unions will be having some rather pointed discussions with Government MPs. It will be interesting to see how this goes.