Chris Hipkins rebukes Mark Mitchell for classing border staff 'bureaucrats' as Greens rip into pay freeze

Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins has called out a National MP in Parliament for classing border workers "bureaucrats" during a debate over the public sector pay freeze. 

The Government is freezing the pay of public servants earning more than $100,000 for the next three years, with increases to be targeted at staff earning less than $60,000. 

National MP Mark Mitchell asked Hipkins on Thursday if "hiring 10,000 additional bureaucrats over the last three years at a cost of $1.3 billion per annum" has impacted the need for the pay freeze. 

Hipkins fired up at Mitchell for equating "bureaucrats" with additional border workers taken on to help protect the country from COVID-19, as well as extra Ministry of Social Development (MSD) staff to help facilitate the wage subsidy. 

"I would suggest when he talks about bureaucrats he might like to think about who he's talking about. It could be the thousand extra staff employed by MSD to provide, among other things, the wage subsidy that kept hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders in jobs.

"It could be the extra 500-plus staff employed by MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment] to protect our border against COVID-19. 

"It could be the more than 300 extra staff employed by MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] to deal with Mycoplasma bovis, which is critical to our primary industries.

"Those are the sorts of people he's calling bureaucrats."

The Government's pay freeze has come under fire from the Public Service Association (PSA), who described it as a "slap in the face" given many are the workers who helped to protect New Zealand during the pandemic.

The Green Party's Social Development spokesperson, Ricardo Menéndez March, said on Twitter it was "appalling" that Finance Minister Grant Robertson "justified" the pay freeze to pay off debt. 

Green MP Jan Logie asked Robertson in Parliament: "Why is he happy to grow the economy through astronomical levels of housing debt, but not through higher wages for our teachers, our nurses and our core public servants?"

Robertson responded: "Having taken on significant debt, we have made the choice of reducing inequality and that starts, for us, with the public sector pay by focusing on the lowest income earners."

Treasury's update on Thursday showed the Government is now more than $105 billion in debt, representing 33.3 percent of GDP which is up from 19.5 percent in February 2020. 

Hipkins pointed out that teachers, nurses and police officers all get step-based pay progression, meaning they will move up their salary scale each year automatically until they reach the top. 

"We are not proposing to change that," he said in Parliament. "In the case of teachers, they have another 3 percent pay increase that was negotiated as part of their last pay round that is still yet to come into force."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a similar response.

"It's really important to reinforce here that all of the existing pay increases that have been negotiated stay in place and of course those workers, such as nurses, continue to move up their pay scales.

"Those are critical pay increases that have been negotiated while we've been in Government.

"What we're saying here is we have a group of critical public sector workers, 25 percent of which are earning $60,000 or less... we need to see movement in that section so we're really calling for increase for those people who are on particularly low incomes."