Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern forced on defensive over the public sector pay freeze

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Deputy, Grant Robertson, were both forced on the defensive this morning over their public sector wage freeze decision.

They both rejected that the moves to restrain public sector wages was a “freeze”, as there is still some room for movement in pay scales.

Last week, the Government revealed there would be no pay increases for public servants on more than $100,000 a year, and those earning more than $60,000 a year can only get a bump in “exceptional circumstances”.

The focus, according to Ardern and her top ministers – who have been forced to defend the decision – was on pay equity among the people earning less than $60,000 a year.
New Zealand’s top union leaders were furious with the decision.

“Don’t expect us to take this lying down,” CTU President Richard Wagstaff told the Herald.

The PSA’s leadership will meet with Ardern tomorrow in a bid to reverse the Government’s decision.

But speaking to a pre-Budget business breakfast this morning, Robertson offered up a defence of the move,

“It is important to note that this is not as has been reported, a pay freeze,” he said, on the moves to limit most pay increases.

“Pay for public servants such as teachers, nurses and police officers will continue to increase as they move through the pay bands we have previously agreed, pay equity discussions continue and there is still a collective bargaining negotiation to go through.”

Ardern was singing a similar tune when speaking to the AM Show this morning.
It was not, she said, a “freeze”.

Like Robertson, she said the focus was on those in the public sector earning the least.

“We have said very clearly: Our expectation is that as we go into negotiations, we want to see that group lift.

“Despite the really tough economic circumstances New Zealand is in, our view is that we have to keep reducing inequality.”

She pointed out that at times of economic strife in other countries, often other Governments would just add a blanket freeze on all pay scales in the public sector.

“None of this is easy,” she said

But Ardern said she “refuses to preside over a time” when the wages for the lowest paid in the public sector is not moving “at the pace we need”.

“We have to lift that group.”

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