29 Feb 2024

'We're calling on NIWA to end that gender pay gap' - union staff protest

1:23 pm on 29 February 2024
NIWA workers protesting what they call union-busting

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

NIWA's union staff are protesting a gender pay gap and what they say is the unfair treatment of union members.

An hour-long strike was the latest action from the Public Service Association (PSA) which has been bargaining with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) since August last year.

It comes two days after 180 PSA members lodged personal grievance claims against NIWA, saying they are being discriminated against because they are union members.

In Wellington, the hour-long strike saw around 50 people protesting outside the company's office.

"Quite a significant pay gap has been found and to date NIWA doesn't seem interested in actually assisting [with] fixing this," PSA delegate and receptionist Jess Moffat told RNZ.

Fellow delegate and marine geologist Scott Nodder said they would like to see NIWA commit to a timeline to reduce the pay gap.

NIWA workers protesting what they call union-busting

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"All of us that work here want to see our colleagues paid fairly and equally for the same work that all of us do," Nodder said.

"The fact that you're a woman and not being paid fairly is abhorrent to all of us."

PSA assistant secretary Fleur Fitzsimons said NIWA's gender pay gap was 13 percent.

"No pay gap is acceptable in 2024," Fitzsimons said.

"We're calling on NIWA to end that gender pay gap and be a modern progressive employer."

Unionised staff had also been denied access to health insurance NIWA had given its non-union staff as a wellbeing initiative.

Fleur Fitzsimons - Assistant Secretary at the Public Service Association (PSA)

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"The non-union members have been offered health insurance, but we won't be offered it until the rest of our collective is settled," a picketer in Hamilton told RNZ

"So our members are currently delaying their surgeries [or] paying out of pocket and we think that's unfair, she said."

PSA national secretary Duane Leo said NIWA had refused to give union members access to insurance in an attempt to undermine the PSA's position.

"It's deeply disappointing that NIWA would try and use staff well-being as some sort of bargaining chip," Leo said.

NIWA union staff picket in Hamilton on 29 February, 2024.

NIWA union staff protesting in Hamilton. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

Fitzsimons said they had seen anti-union tactics and an unwillingness from NIWA to bargain fair pay increases for their workers.

Her message to NIWA was: "Come to the table with a fair offer so we can resolve this dispute and get back to the important work that these scientists, technicians and support workers do."

Another strike was planned next week on 6 March.

Current offer 'a very good one' - NIWA

A NIWA spokesperson said NIWA employees were amongst the higher paid within the New Zealand science system.

"NIWA believes that in the current environment the offer of a 6 percent salary increase and free Southern Cross health insurance is a very good one."

The spokesperson said health insurance would be available for union employees once collective bargaining was settled.

"In September 2023, as part of their annual remuneration review the majority of NIWA staff, who are employed on individual employment agreements, were offered a 6 percent salary increase and free Southern Cross health insurance. This provision was implemented for individual employees once they accepted the offer.

"Prior to the offer being made to employees on individual employment agreements the same offer of a 6 percent increase and free Southern Cross health insurance was made to staff who are members of the PSA, as part of the 2023 Collective Employment Agreement bargaining. However, these negotiations have not yet been settled. This offer remains open for acceptance as part of this bargaining process."

In regards to the gender pay gap the spokesperson said " NIWA remains committed to the joint PSA/NIWA working party established by agreement with the PSA in 2022 as a means to identify and address any gender pay equity issues".