24 Apr 2024

'We can't forget those people': Public sector job cuts not just impacting Wellington

10:40 am on 24 April 2024
Stylised illustration of cardboard box full of personal effects and wilted potted flowers

Photo: RNZ

Public servants in the regions say cuts are not just affecting workers in the capital, as they reassess job prospects in a competitive labour market.

At least 400 of the 3179 of jobs on the line so far were outside of Wellington, according to numbers provided by the Public Service Association.

A Ministry of Education employee, who worked in the curriculum and assessment space, lived outside Wellington, and whose role was up for redundancy, said the cuts will impact regional towns where public servants do hybrid work.

"A lot of the team work remotely and come to Wellington for office days. There's a lot of subject expertise - some of them live in Wellington, but some of them outside of Wellington - and travel to Wellington for that work."

He said he was also concerned about the proposed 87 cuts to regional Ministry of Education roles and how that could affect teachers who need access to curriculum or learning support.

According to the public service commission, 55.5 percent of core public service employees - people who work in ministries - work outside of the capital.

Do you live in a region or city outside of Wellington and have been affected by the public sector cuts? Email ellen.odwyer@rnz.co.nz

The Wellington region still has the largest share, at 28,094 staff. The second largest is the Auckland region with 13,158, then Canterbury with 6194 core public service workers.

Throughout the country, the public sector workforce had grown by 15 percent in the past five years.

Between, 2017 and 2023, the public service increased by 42 percent in the Wellington region, and 35 percent in the Auckland region.

In the Waikato region, it increased by 5.2 per cent during those years.

RNZ approached nine ministries about the geographical breakdown of its proposed cuts including Ministry of Education, Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Ethnic Communities, Customs, Department of Conservation, and Ministry of Pacific Peoples.

None provided information about where geographically the cuts were occurring, with many statements referring to the consultation process currently underway.

Public Service Association spokesperson Fleur Fitzsimons said at least 400 roles - likely more - were proposed to be cut outside Wellington from the Ministry of Education, Oranga Tamariki, Ministry of Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, and Customs combined.

On Monday, the union said the Customs roles would affect positions around the country, including Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, and one role each in Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Whangārei, Gisborne, Timaru and Invercargill.

"We haven't seen the true extent of cuts to the regions, we know there will be more significant proposals for roles to be axed, and that many other government agencies are proposing regional job losses," Fitzsimons said.

Infometrics chief economist Brad Olsen said Wellington, then Auckland, would experience the largest impact of the cuts - though other areas such as Hamilton or Palmerston North could be affected in smaller numbers.

"I definitely think there's a broader effect on not only Wellington but the rest of the country as well when it comes to these public sector cut backs.

"On the staffing front, the main implications are still Wellington and Auckland but there are still others across the country, and we can't forget those people."

Olsen said the situation was compounded by the labour market tightening.

Employment website Seek's latest report showed the number of total job adverts was down 27 percent on a year ago.

"It is an increasingly difficult environment for those who are currently losing roles to find a new job at the same level, at the same pay rate, and as available as they would have previously liked it," Olsen said.

In the regions, job listings were also down on last year. For example, Waikato and Manawatū's job listings have dropped by 26 percent on the previous year.

One former public servant, Matt Walker, lived in Rotorua and was made redundant from his job at an agency in early January.

He said his job loss was due to other reasons, though he believed the cuts and general economic environment was making it difficult for him to find another role in the wider Bay of Plenty region.

He said he applied for a communications role two months ago in the Taupō district - but was told there was more than 200 applicants.

He also applied for a mid-level role in Fonterra but was told he was over-qualified.

"One of the jobs that keeps coming up on my recommended radar is online grocery filling.

"I'm not quite sure how that algorithm works, but you clearly wouldn't need the level of qualification or experience that I have to do that sort of role - yet those are the ones, or roles based outside of New Zealand, that keep coming up."

Minister for the Public Service Nicola Willis said in a statement the government was delivering on a commitment to reduce ineffective public spending.

"Individual government agencies have put forward savings proposals. Many are consulting with their staff on structure changes that would reduce back-office roles and functions.

"These proposals are not restricted to Wellington-based roles and some could result in changes to regional structures as well.

"Our expectation is that every government agency will ensure they are structured to support effective delivery of front-line public services to New Zealanders wherever they live - urban, regional or rural included."

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