Almost half of Ministry for Pacific Peoples' workforce to be cut under proposal

A union is slamming Government spending cuts that will see the size of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples slashed by 40 percent as "brutal", saying it'll hit Pasifika communities hard.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said in a statement on Thursday that the ministry had told staff it was seeking voluntary redundancies.

The PSA said the ministry would cut 63 of 156 positions, of which 31 are vacant. It would look to redeploy and reassign staff.

PSA Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi National Secretary Duane Leo said the cuts would have far-reaching consequences for the health and wellbeing of Pasifika families both in New Zealand and across the Pacific.

"The 40 percent reduction is going to have a huge impact on a small ministry serving a population of about 400,000 Pasifika people in New Zealand, many of whom have close links across the Pacific."

He said the community needed dedicated Government support. 

"We know that Pasifika families are more likely to live in overcrowded, unhealthy housing, and that their families are more likely to struggle financially than other New Zealanders. 

"The Pasifika population has also grown rapidly - by 43 percent between 2006 and 2018, twice the rate of New Zealand's population."

The ministry had been active in supporting housing development, the creation of training and employment opportunities, supporting Pasifika languages, cultures and identities, and developing social enterprises, the union said.

However, the ministry also came under fire for its expenditure last year after it spent $40,000 of taxpayer money on a farewell party, then National revealed it spent over $50,000 of taxpayer money on Budget breakfast events

Leo defended the ministry though, saying it "carries out a very important role by being a bridge between the Government and Pasifika communities".

"The value of this often-underrated work was highlighted during the COVID pandemic response," he said.

"This work is needed now more than ever. Pasifika communities are grappling with the high cost of living and are more at risk than others from the downturn in the employment market.

"Once again, we are seeing the cold, hard reality of the choice this Government has made - giving $3 billion in tax cuts to landlords, is somehow deemed more important, than supporting important and at times vulnerable communities. 

"These cuts show the low level of importance this Government accords the Pasifika community. Unfortunately, this isn't surprising given a senior Cabinet member joked before the election about blowing the ministry up."

ACT leader David Seymour said "we'd send a guy called Guy Fawkes in there [the Ministry for Pacific Peoples] and it'd be all over". 

Seymour added what he said was "clearly a joke."

A Ministry for Pacific Peoples spokesperson told Newshub the ministry had been asked to identify savings to contribute towards the Government's "fiscal sustainability goals".

The spokesperson said that meant it had been given an indicative target to identify 7.5 percent savings, due to its growth in size since 2017.

"We are currently consulting with staff on these proposed changes to our structure until 5 April 2024 and will be offering the option of voluntary redundancy.

"Recruitment is paused while this process is underway."

Final decisions on the proposal will be made at the end of April, then changes implemented from July 1.

"We will be working to ensure both our staff and Pacific communities are kept well-informed about any changes at that time," the spokesperson said.

"We remain committed to championing the voices of Pacific communities, and maintaining programmes that help to empower Pacific peoples to thrive is our priority.

"We are confident that the proposed changes to our structure will enable us to remain closely connected to and support Pacific communities throughout the country."

However, Green Party's Pacific peoples spokesperson Teanau Tuiono threw out the ministry's cost-cutting point. 

He said the Government cared about little more than cutting taxes for the wealthy.

"For many years, the Ministry of Pacific Peoples has helped strengthen the family, community and cultural connections between Pasifika peoples living in Aotearoa and the islands. MPP has done this with the blessing and collective support of our community, and by empowering Pacific communities to be at the decision-making table, driving and leading innovative solutions - contributing across all government agencies to ensure Pacific voices are heard.

"Now this Government is hell bent on severing that connection. And for what? So this Government can cobble together the money it needs to pay for tax cuts that benefit the wealthy few."