The Green Party of New Zealand has successfully overturned the pay freeze set to affect public service workers. The fields affected include nurses, teachers, and Directors of Care (DOC).

This victory follows the Greens launching a petition calling for a reversal of the announcement by NZ Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins to extend wage suppression to a three-year term.

Following an outcry from both unions and the Green Party, the Government has agreed to review the freeze next year, as opposed to 2023.

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Richard Wagstaff called this a win for public sector employees. “From our point of view, it worked,” he stated in an interview with the New Zealand Herald when asked about the negotiation results.

The government ultimately only conceded to an earlier review date. They have, however, changed the narrative to focus on increasing salaries for public sector workers earning less than $60 000.

“We will enter into good faith bargaining but this is our starting point and our perspective on what we need to achieve – that includes lifting our lowest-paid workers,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference last week.

Unfrozen terms

Before the rescheduling of the review, the freeze would have continued to affect public service workers for three years. While it was not entirely eliminated, the freeze will only remain in play for under a year.

Until the review is complete, those making between $60 000 to $100 000 will have their wages supressed, and only very special circumstances will result in an increase.

Anyone earning over $100 000 will have their wages frozen, and those making less than $60 000 will experience priority pay increases. The pay increases will only affect about a quarter of the sector under these conditions.

“We totally support prioritizing wage increases for people earning under $60 000, but we do not need to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Green Party Workplace Relations spokesperson Jan Logie.

Moreover, the Greens noted the decision to freeze the wages of public sector workers comes at a time when they have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic. “They deserve our thanks, not suppressed, stagnating wages, particularly as the cost of living increases,” said Logie.

Government justification

Finance Minister Grant Roberson justified the restraint by calling it a means to limit public debt, following its skyrocketing during COVID-19. The increase in spending came from measures such as the wage subsidy.

“Just as businesses are making decisions as they plan for the recovery, our responsible economic approach means the Government is faced with choices about where new spending is targeted,” Roberston said.

Public sector pay accounts for about $5 billion in a $108 billion budget, not a large portion. Thus, any changes in spending would likely have had minimal impact.

However, Roberson further noted it was important to “show leadership,” in their fiscal control.

Union dissatisfaction

The median salary for a member of the Public Service Association (PSA) is $59 000 while the overall median salary for New Zealand is $91 400, according to salaryexplorer. The PSA called the salary freeze “unacceptable” because tPublic Service workers already make less than the average New Zealander.

Members and supporters of the Public Service Association protest against the proposal by Health Care NZ Photo / Chris Ollington

“It seems like governments always find an excuse to undervalue public servants and restrict their pay, whether it’s Covid-19, the Global Financial Crisis or the Great Depression,” said PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.

It is unlikely that union members are happy with the remaining freezes, however, the term of the freeze will be up for negotiation soon enough.

The Green Party petition remains ongoing, in an attempt to overturn the decision to suppress wages entirely. To sign, click here.

Emma Fingerle

Emma Fingerle is a passionate, aspiration, and a confident second-year student at McGill University, working towards a B.A. in Political Science and Environment. She is looking to bridge the gap between Green Party news and research and the public sector to create a more encompassing political narrative. Having worked at a nature-driven summer camp during her teenage years, Emma happens passionate about educating young people on environmental issues. She is also passionate about equity and diversity advocacy, environmental policy, and indigenous rights. The development of ESG practices pique Emma's interest, and she is determined to better the sustainability of corporate practices.

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