16 Nov 2018

Union urges more pay talks after court altercation

2:42 pm on 16 November 2018

The union representing court staff is standing firm on continuing industrial action saying the Ministry of Justice needs to come back to the bargaining table.

The Law Society says industrial action by court staff is making courts unsafe.

It said a brawl at the Christchurch District Court yesterday would not have happened had it been possible for the defendant to appear by video link.

Daniel French was pleading guilty to firearms and cannabis charges when three men jumped over a bench and tried to attack him.

The men appeared to have an issue with him over the death of a gang member.

His lawyer, Liz Bulger, said people were put at risk.

"People were in danger, there were people in the back of the court who were completely unrelated to my client's appearance.

"There was a big police presence there's no doubt about that, certainly this morning was the worst example of behaviour like that in a court that I've seen in 31 years in practice."

The Public Service Association (PSA) said it remained hopeful the pay dispute would be resolved.

PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said its members did not take the industrial action lightly and urged the ministry to come to a resolution.

Glenn Barclay, General Secretary, PSA

PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said its members did not take the industrial action lightly. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Barclay said the union did not accept the incident was a direct result of industrial action and that the ministry knew the risks involved prior to that particular court hearing.

He told Morning Report other options other than a video link had been available to the judge, like clearing the court.

"The point of industrial action is to be disruptive and when the Employment Court heard the Ministry of Justice case against us a couple of weeks ago they made that absolutely clear that this is accepted, so that's the situation that we're in and the ministry has an obligation to maintain health and safety within those situations," he said.

He also defended a ban on members serving, checking and signing sentencing documents and said it was a challenge to the ministry to avoid miscarriages of justice in light of the action.

The union was looking for a 2 to 3 percent pay rise.

"We are talking about a low-paid ministry here," he said.

"When the living wage was introduced to the public service, the ministry had one of the biggest numbers who were directly affected by that. We now have a big cluster of staff in or around the living wage.

"These are not well-paid public servants. These are members of our's who do responsible, emotionally demanding and at times dangerous work and they need to be acknowledged for that."

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