Unions delighted public sector pay freeze off the table after crisis talks with Government

Unions are delighted a public sector pay freeze is off the table following "constructive" crisis talks with the Government.

After pushing back on the controversial pay restrictions at Parliament on Tuesday, the Government conceded - in part.

Last week, it was announced that public servants earning more than $100,000 would not receive a pay rise for the next three years, in a bid to bump up the pay of lower-paid workers - primarily those earning under $60,000. Employees pocketing between $60,000 and $100,000 would have to prove exceptional circumstances to be eligible for an increase.

However, the Government failed to consult with the unions prior to the announcement - the blanket rulings blindsiding the public sector and riling up a workforce who went "above and beyond" throughout the precarity of the pandemic, said Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Richard Wagstaff.

"Managers got hold of it and said 'don't expect anything this year, the Government's told us we can't give you anything'. It certainly touched a nerve," Wagstaff told The AM Show on Wednesday morning.

"We were determined to make it clear that no one is allowed to just announce a pay freeze - well, they can, but that's not how pay's set in this country. It's set through collective bargaining. We were keen to say to the Government, you can have whatever expectations you like - we've got ours too. They don't match. We need to sort this out at the bargaining table, not through announcements."

Richard Wagstaff
CTU president Richard Wagstaff said unions are pleased with yesterday's outcome, telling The AM Show: "We got what we wanted." Photo credit: Newshub Nation

On Tuesday, the Government agreed to review the policy next year and consider cost of living increases, accepting that unions can negotiate pay increases to meet the cost of living for public servants. 

Wagstaff said unions are pleased with the outcome, noting the discussions "did a lot of good".

"We came out of it with what we wanted, which was an agreement that bargainings weren't set, that we can discuss cost of living increases, that we will get bigger pay rises for the lower-paid - that there is no pay freeze - and a number of other things. We're feeling better about it now," he said.

"We know there's scope now for bargaining and there is no pay freeze. That's a good outcome."

Jacinda Ardern
PM Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday's crisis talks were "constructive", but stopped short of apologising for the distress caused to workers. Photo credit: Getty Images

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern agreed the meetings were "constructive".

"I absolutely acknowledge that despite it being contained within our pay guidance, we should have put more emphasis on the things that haven't necessarily been out there in the public domain," she said. 

Although the policy quickly gained traction as a public sector pay freeze, Wagstaff acknowledged this wasn't exactly the case.

"It quickly got wheels as a pay freeze, but in the past we've known real pay freezes where there were no improvements. If you read the fineprint of this announcement, there were improvements there, particularly for the low-paid, but the communication wasn't."

Judith Collins
Judith Collins has backed unions and their bid to overturn the Government's decisiont to implement a public sector pay freeze for the next three years. Photo credit: Getty Images

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning, Opposition leader Judith Collins made it clear where her loyalties lie - blaming the pay freeze fiasco on the Government hiring too many "highly-paid Wellington bureaucrats". 

"We didn't go and employ 10,000 more highly-paid Wellington bureaucrats - a lot of those employed, by the way, before COVID-19 - and then ask the hard-working nurses, police officers, Corrections officers, teachers to go and just, I don't know, take a pay cut effectively, because of the cost of living," she said.

She agreed with Wagstaff's take that a position with a $60,000 salary could not be considered a well-paid job in the current economic climate. 

"The cost of living has gone up so much, hasn't it? So if you're on $70,000, $80,000 even - $90,000 or $100,000 - you often are quite struggling, particularly because the cost of housing has also gone up. I think [Labour] has sort of cocked it up," Collins said. 

"I'll leave the numbers to the Government to try and sort it out. I'm not going to help them get out of the hole that they've dug for themselves."