Covid-19: Council pay cuts would be 'immoral', chief executive says

8:18 pm on 17 April 2020

The chief executive of Rotorua Lakes Council says the suggestion of pay cuts for its executive team would be "immoral".

Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams.

Photo: Stephen Parker / Rotorua Daily Post

On Thursday, Geoff Williams affirmed he did not want to see salary reductions for the council's executive team in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

"I fundamentally do not support a call to cut pays for the executive team," Williams said.

"I am very fortunate to have around me an extremely committed, dedicated and hardworking executive team who are now working even harder as a result of the current situation," he said.

"This is already a very challenging and difficult time for everybody, including our staff, and to expect them to take a pay cut now, simply because they work in local government, is immoral in my view."

Williams said the council was currently managing business-as-usual work, including provision of essential services, setting up and running an emergency operations centre, while also working on a local economic recovery plan and upcoming annual plan.

"These are all being overseen by the executive team, along with looking closely at costs and we will continue to be under pressure as an organisation."

Williams said if any person wanted to donate part of their salary to a worthy cause, that was their personal decision.

"I know our executive team already contribute in substantial ways to our community outside of work and that they will continue to do so," he said.

"All staff, including the executive team, have employment contracts that define their roles, responsibilities and expectations, and I can't unilaterally decide to reduce people's pay.

"It would require mutual agreement and a formal process that would trigger consideration of a range of matters like redundancy, change in work and workload, conditions and so on.

"In terms of my own situation, as part of contract negotiations following my reappointment to the chief executive role, I have agreed to no change to pay and conditions.

"I fully understand the need for our organisation to be run as efficiently and effectively as possible to deliver what is asked of us and we are looking closely at costs as we work on the next annual plan."

Williams' comments come after the Rotorua Daily Post asked him if he supported the idea of pay cuts for the executive leadership team, whether it was something he was personally open to or if he had volunteered for a pay cut

Williams' pay was set at $374,721 and also came with a vehicle allowance of $15,650.

As of last year, eight council employees earned $200,000 each year or more, which included Williams.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she and all other ministers would take a 20 percent pay cut for six months, bringing her pay packet down from $459,739 to $414,166.

It would also apply to 34 government department chief executives, including Director-General of health Ashley Bloomfield, who would take a $52,800 hit to his $528,000 salary.

Opposition leader Simon Bridges had also said he would take a 20 percent pay cut.

Wellington City Council's mayor, councillors and executive leadership had opted for a 10 percent pay cut for the rest of the year. Auckland mayor Phil Goff will take a 20 percent cut over six months and Waikato District Council chief executive Gavin Ion has taken a 20 percent pay cut for the next six months.

In a written statement via the council communications team, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she was "acutely aware of the hurt our community is feeling".

"We know that our district, like others, faces tough times ahead and that needs to be reflected in the work programme we set as a council.

"There is a view that remuneration 'cuts' are another way for local government to acknowledge this.

"Trying to publicly shame or force elected members or council staff into a certain position is morally wrong.

"This also fails to acknowledge that elected members, just like members of the wider community, are all individuals in different personal circumstances."

Chadwick reiterated local government remuneration was different to central government in that remuneration must be accepted, and "pay cuts" could only come in the form of salary donations once the member had received it.

Council staff salary or job cuts was "not a matter for elected members", Chadwick said.

"As the governance arm of [the] council we appoint only the chief executive and he has already, as part of negotiations following his recent re-appointment to the role, taken a pay freeze. His new contract will be the same as his previous contract.

"He [Williams] is very aware of the pressure being felt by our council organisation and across the sector regarding how we will tackle the recovery.

"The expectation is that the council is run as efficiently as possible, that costs are closely scrutinised, that as a public organisation we need to act responsibly and that now is not a time for salary increases.

"Our chief executive is very aware and supportive of these expectations."

Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson, councillors Trevor Maxwell and Sandra Kai Fong did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Councillor views

Peter Bentley: "My position [of supporting pay reduction] has not changed from [last week]."

Reynold Macpherson: "My notice of motion for the next council meeting is for a 10 per cent cut to annual salary. I will donate 20 per cent of my salary to the Sallies so it goes straight to those most in need. I will donate the moment all on [the] council agree to a salary cut / donation."

Tania Tapsell: "I am open to considering [a salary donation] in principle, however I believe it's a personal and voluntary decision. I respect that elected members will have different financial situations and it's against my values to bully people into doing something they don't have to do. I don't support pressuring [council staff] into sacrificing their pay when there's no evidence on how that will support Rotorua."

Mercia Yates: "I believe donations are a personal choice. Many do additional mahi in the community and within iwi."

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait: "It is for everyone ... to make their own call in this matter. I continue to work and advocate for all sectors of our community. This was prior to and will most certainly continue after we come out of level 4. I already donate from my salary to two national organisations and will continue to do so."

Raj Kumar: "I still am firm with my gesture of a salary reduction and hope others too will put their hand up to show the people that we [are] caring and we are a collective in a time of crisis. I'm seeing lots of people who are being told their jobs are going to be restructured and hours reduced. I cannot see a community in pain and continue to serve them while they are selfless. It's time to be kind and say we are all in it together."

Fisher Wang: "I will be taking a 'pay cut' ... in the form of donations ... in solidarity with those who have unfortunately lost their income. The donations will be made to our local community, projects or organisations to help support those who will need it the most during these times. I will not be disclosing how much I am donating, because I'm not here to 'show off' or to get a pat on the back.. I will also look into supporting a freeze on an increase in remuneration come the next round of review from the Remuneration Authority. However, I believe this should not apply to the community boards."

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