23 Aug 2005

NZ arbitrators to leave for Tonga tomorrow to broker strike talks

3:54 pm on 23 August 2005

The New Zealand mediator leaves for Tonga tomorrow to start talks with the parties in the strike by public servants for better pay.

The retired employment court Judge Tom Goddard says the mediation process belongs to the Government and the striking civil servants, and his job is to listen.

Justice Goddard says only after listening to both parties, will a timeframe for discussions be set.

The New Zealand foreign minister, Phil Goff, says it's important to help reduce the tension in Tonga, where the strike is harming the economy.

"The mediation is desired by both sides and I think that is a great basis for Judge Goddard to go there and to facilitate the parties towards finding a solution to this dispute."

Mr Goff says New Zealand will pay for the arbitration team.

The Pacific Islands Forum says it is ready and willing to step in and try and help resolve the developing crisis in Tonga.

But deputy secretary general Iosefa Maiava says it is up to Tonga to make a formal approach to the regional body.