Grant Robertson schedules union crisis meetings after failing to communicate public pay freeze properly

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has scheduled crisis meetings with unions this week after failing to communicate his public pay freeze properly. 

He's bringing along the big guns - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been called in to help calm the waters. But Robertson is refusing to apologise for the undue distress he has caused. 

"This is not, as has been reported, a pay freeze," Robertson said in his pre-Budget speech on Monday in Auckland. 

The Finance Minister's public sector pay freeze went down like a cup of cold sick - workers and unions revolted, and now they're just confused. 

"We're pleased he's saying it's not a pay freeze and we'd like to talk further to him about that because that's not the message that's come across from the guidance," Public Service Association (PSA) National Secretary Kerry Davies told Newshub. 

Robertson wouldn't say if he should have been clearer when he made the announcement. 

"We'll take some time to reflect on that," he said. 

Thousands upon thousands of public service workers are writing to their unions furious. Newshub has been provided just a sample of their stories.

A Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) worker said: "It's a kick in the guts after working continuously over COVID restrictions and lockdowns." 

A Customs worker said: "Frankly appalling."

A Ministry of Social Development worker said: "My rent went up $60 per week and I can no longer afford to pay it."  

Another MPI worker said: "I can barely afford my mortgage as it is, a further two years of no pay increases will be devastating for me." 

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) worker said: "This is bulls**t... The rich get richer and public servants get f***ed. They aren't going to have a good public service if they are going to treat their employees like s**t."  

"We're going to be meeting with the unions this week; we will continue the dialogue that we have," Robertson said. 

But he stopped short of apologising. 

"As I say, we'll take our time to reflect on what's happened here."

The Government froze pay for workers earning over $100,000 and said any pay increases in the public sector should be targeted at those earning less than $60,000. 

Any pay rises in the middle would only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

Now the Finance Minister is clarifying that in fact some of those middle public servants may still get pay rises, if it's time for them to move up their pay steps.

"What most New Zealanders would think when you use that phrase is that someone's pay will stay the same; for teachers, nurses, police - people who have those bands will move through them for the next few years," Robertson said. 

Any hopes of a back down on the freeze are dashed. Ahead of her meeting with the PSA on Tuesday, the Prime Minister says there's no chance they'll reverse the policy. 

How's that for good faith bargaining?