6 May 2021

Police, post-primary teachers unions join criticism of government's public sector pay freeze

10:41 am on 6 May 2021
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File image. Photo: Pxfuel free image

The teachers and police associations have come out hard against the government's pay freeze for the public sector, with the move being called a "kick in the guts".

In the freeze announced yesterday, public servants earning more than $60,000 will only be offered pay increases under exceptional circumstances for the next three years.

Healthcare worker unions have already voiced concerns that doctors and nurses will move to Australia as a result.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Melanie Webber told Morning Report she was "not entirely surprised" by the freeze.

"I have never heard a finance minister talk up public sector pay increases. We are not negotiating until next year, so we are watching other things very closely.

"Teachers worked astonishingly hard to keep things going and hold things together, provide continuity through lockdown and are continuing to deal with the impacts of the pandemic so we wouldn't want to see a situation like what happened to post-Christchurch [earthquake] where we saw salaries dropping and we had huge teacher shortages as a result."

Police Association president Chris Cahill said: "We've had a massive response and without a doubt the theme is 'Where is the government coming from? What rock are they under? Are they not looking out there and seeing the cost of housing, the cost of rents, the obvious inflation that is coming through?'.

"Every economist is saying inflation is going to be a big issue and any pay freeze in reality, is a pay cut over three years when you've inflation the way it is.

"They are just ignoring the productivity that the public service is putting in. From a police point I can tell you a 44 percent increase over the last four years in family harm incidents attended, mental health going through the roof. Gang members at record numbers.

"They are working hard than ever and this is just a kick in the guts."

As for how police would respond to the pay freeze, Cahill said: "We've got 2000 new officers that have joined in the past four years ... but they are at the bottom. They are at that $60,000, $61,000 range. These are the young people that want to start families, that want to buy houses. They are struggling to even rent properties.

"And they are the ones most at risk of walking out the door. They are the ones that we need for the future of new Zealand police, so we're very concerned."

Webber said the pay freeze would exacerbate teacher shortages.

"The government saying teacher shortages have been solved because of people coming back and because of Covid - what's going to happen is the borders are going to open up again, people are going to return back overseas, but equally you're going to have huge numbers of young teachers are going to say 'why am I staying around?'. They are going to go on OE's and you're going to have older teachers retiring who have maybe held off retirement to get through this.

"Shortages are going to be coming back."

Cahill said the government's move was "1970 economics".

"What are we going to do next? Roll out carless days to combat climate change? I think we're a lot more sophisticated than that in this day and age and how can you have good faith bargaining when you start with a three-year wage freeze. They need to understand that for public servants living in New Zealand, three-year wage freezes is not something they are going to put up with."