TODAY |

Opinion: Ardern penny pinching on nurses and police pay makes no sense

Rightly, the government has been effusive in its thanks for front line workers throughout Covid-19.

Worker at Covid-19 testing station.

Different groups even got shout outs each day at the press conferences. But that thanks is all they’ll get for the extra hours, stress and uncertainty.

Ironically public servants include nurses, border workers, teachers and police had to work right through very challenging circumstances. Actually, many are still working on the front line.

It would have been a hard sell for the Prime Minister who met with nurses in Whanganui the day after announcing a pay freeze for most of them.

A wage freeze for the public sector seems like the wrong place to penny pinch.

The Government surprised everyone on Wednesday by announcing any government workers getting over $60,000 won’t get a pay rise.

It’s a bad move because: 1. Everyone has had a tough year. 2. The government can’t even say how much money it will save by doing this 3. It’s a poor political move by Labour because it irks the unions.

The PSA says they felt “betrayed” after “a year of sacrifice by workers”. When I interviewed them they said they had no heads up and no consultation and it messes with their ongoing negotiations. And it wasn’t just the PSA. Annoying the unions over this seems silly.

Why get offside over something symbolic? Effectively every year you have a pay freeze you get worse off because you’re not keeping up with the increased cost of living. And if Twitter is anything to go by many Labour supporters don’t understand why either.

The wage bill for the public service is $5 billion a year – there are around 380,000 workers and 25% of them earn under $60,000 – so 75% won’t get a pay rise. It doesn’t feel like you’d gain much.

The Finance Minister says it’s about showing leadership and sending the message everyone must tighten their belts to keep debt under control, but it seems silly to annoy that big group of voters when the savings can’t even be quantified.