Judith Collins says the Government’s decision yesterday to soften its stance on the public sector pay freeze after meeting with unions is “a pretty stunning reversal” given the issue was self-inflicted.
It comes after the Government said it would be open to discussing increasing public sector workers’ pay in line with living costs, if they were on moderate incomes. It also agreed to review the pay freeze policy at the end of 2022, a year earlier than initially announced.
The partial concessions came after senior ministers met with the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).
Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins denied the Government had shifted its position and said cost-of-living increases were “in scope to be discussed during negotiations, as they always were”. That’s despite his initial announcement that only in “special circumstances” could public servants earning between $60,000 and $100,000 expect pay increases.
Speaking on Breakfast this morning, the National leader said she didn’t buy Hipkins’ claim.
“It must have been quite an interesting meeting … I’d say it’s a pretty stunning reversal,” she said.
She said the Labour-led Government, in its first term, had been too loose with the purse strings.
Between 2017 and 2020, and in the lead-up to the Covid-19 pandemic as the Government tried to bolster its pandemic response, the Government had employed 10,000 more bureaucrats at an increased cost of $1.3 billion in those three years, Collins said.
“Now, suddenly, the nurses and the police officers, Corrections officers, teachers, they’re being told they get to pay for it.
“The problem is the Government’s own making … you don’t employ 10,000 more highly-paid bureaucrats in Wellington.”
Collins added: “The fact is people who are higher qualified who have skills that are more highly sought need to be paid more for that. Otherwise, they’ll go to Australia.”
She said “most” of the 10,000 were employed before the pandemic. She also said it didn’t make sense that the Government was employing more people in the public sector to strengthen the border during Covid-19 when there weren’t many flights coming into the country last year.
In a statement yesterday, the PSA said it had “frank and constructive discussions” with the Government.
"Union members will resolve the question of public sector pay rises through collective bargaining," national secretary Kerry Davies said.
“The union took the opportunity to outline how hurt and angry PSA members are feeling in the wake of last week’s pay restriction announcement. The Government acknowledged these feelings are deep and widespread.”
Meanwhile, the CTU welcomed Hipkins intention "to accelerate pay equity and pay parity processes to settlement, positively impacting on the gender and ethnic pay imbalance".
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern couldn't tell Breakfast how much money the Government would save with the public servant pay freeze policy.