30 Nov 2018

Court strikes halted after bargaining stalemate ends

4:30 pm on 30 November 2018

Nationwide strike action at courts throughout the country has come to a halt this afternoon after a bargaining deadlock was broken.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

Court staff have repeatedly walked off the job, in conjunction with work-to-rule action, amid an ongoing industrial dispute with the Ministry of Justice for the past two months.

This afternoon Public Service Association national secretary Glenn Barclay said mediation between the two parties yesterday had ended the stalemate.

"The progress made by getting back to the table with ministry officials has been sufficient for the PSA to agree to suspend industrial action from 1.30pm today that had previously been in place to continue until 7 December," he said.

Mr Barclay said "significant progress" had been made towards bargaining a revised offer and it was likely negotiations would soon end in a settlement, which PSA members still had to vote on.

Ministry of Justice chief executive Andrew Bridgman said while details were still being finalised, he was pleased with the progress that had been made.

The union's strike action was called into question earlier this month by the Ministry of Justice, which applied for an interim injunction on short-notice strikes, dubbed "lightning strikes", through the Employment Court.

Court workers in Wellington were among 2000 staff who went on strike for two hours on Wednesday for higher pay and better conditions.

Court workers in Wellington were among 2000 staff who went on strike for two hours in September for higher pay and better conditions. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The application was made on the basis that a notice period of 30 minutes was disruptive to the courts and unsafe for those in them.

However, Judge Mark Perkins said strikes were supposed to be inconvenient and any step to reduce their effectiveness could only be taken if there were sound reasons for doing so.

The strike action proceeded and one week later Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue spoke out about her concern that the ongoing industrial action may result in a miscarriage of justice.

She said hearings, including bail applications, were being delayed as a result of limited court hours and people were finding themselves stuck in the system.

The Ministry of Justice estimates about 7500 fewer hearings, ranging from sentencings to bail applications, were completed in November compared to August - the month before the industrial action started.

Mr Barclay said an agreed document is set to be finalised between both parties by the end of next week.