28 May 2024

Public service cuts: Taxpayers' Union urges government to axe more jobs

7:52 pm on 28 May 2024
Composite of the Beehive, an exit sign and a person walking with briefcase

(file image) Photo: Unsplash / RNZ

The government is again being criticised for public sector job cuts, but it is also being accused of not going far enough.

The number of public servants grew by 18,000 between June 2017 and December last year, Public Service Commission data showed.

RNZ's latest count has the total public sector job losses sitting at just over 5000 - that is, roles that have already gone or are proposed to be cut.

But Taxpayers' Union campaigns manager Connor Molloy said that was not close to what was needed.

"Shaving a couple of thousand bureaucrats off the top is simply not going to be enough to reverse the huge explosion in staffing numbers that we've seen over the last six years."

The organisation wanted to see the public service pared back to at least 2017 levels. While frontline jobs should increase as the population did, back office functions should not, he said.

He criticised the way some ministries had gone about their cuts, labelling calls for mass voluntary redundancies as "lazy", and risking losing top talent.

"What we'd prefer is ministers going through line by line and saying ... 'this job that you're doing is something that we don't think is delivering value for taxpayers, we're going to cut that, anyone associated with that, your job is gone'."

University of Auckland macroeconomics chairperson Professor Robert MacCulloch said the growth in the public service sector had done nothing for the New Zealand's productivity.

head and shoulder photo

Professor Robert MacCulloch Photo: Supplied

"Productivity hasn't increased in the past six years.

"Levels of wellbeing are falling, our ranking in terms of GDP per capita is falling, we're one of the slowest growing countries in the world, so I think all of those numbers speak for themselves."

Productivity had dropped in four of the last seven years, StatsNZ data showed - but the three years that did see an increase were tiny, less than 1 percent.

However, the public sector was not wholly to blame for those measures, MacCulloch said, but he argued it played a big part.

The Public Service Association (PSA) said those 18,000 extra public servants were carrying out vital work.

National secretary Duane Leo said while the government had to tighten its belt, it had gone the wrong way about it.

"The government should be investing more in critical public and community services, rather than providing and prioritising tax cuts to landlords," he said.

"They're not valuing critical public and community services that New Zealanders will need at a time when there's severe economic stress."

However, PSA was on the same page with the Taxpayers' Union on one point - that the government's approach to the cuts was too broad brush.

"We've been told that there's a line by line audit of what's gone on ... we're not seeing that," Leo said.

Some ministries and departments have told RNZ they would not confirm their job cuts yet because the information is Budget sensitive. The Budget reveal on Thursday may provide a sense of how many more public servants could be out of a job.

Competition for jobs 'very challenging'

An out of work Wellingtonian has set up an online support group for government workers who have lost their jobs and are struggling to navigate the realities of the unemployment queue and everything that comes with it.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis is ruling out further redundancies, saying the government is focusing on the frontline.

Paula, who has previously worked as a team leader in three different government departments, has set up the Facebook group, pulling together information on finance and banking, benefits and where to go for what help, including covering the cost of feeding and looking after pets.

"It's been quite challenging obviously with the number of people that have been made redundant or roles being disestablished. So the opportunity regardless of being made redundant or just leaving a job or looking for a career change or wanting to do something that you're passionate about has become exceedingly difficult," she told Checkpoint.

"It has become very challenging because we're competing not only with our colleagues, or previous colleagues, we're competing with people coming in from out of the country ... we're also competing with the graduates that are coming out of university, which must be incredibly difficult."

There limited job options available because many required specialised experience or certain study qualifications, she said. The other options meant accepting lower salary offers than what she was used to.

"I've got an early childhood background ... so I've had to go back to that, which is on average $20.00 an hour to $26, maybe $30 if you're lucky, so that's substantially lower than what I had been earning.

"I suspect what's happening is that a lot of people who have been made redundant are just looking for something, because they've got families to feed and they've got pets to feed and they've got insurance bills, they've got mortgages and so a job is a job, as they say. "

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