Behind the scenes

In these difficult times, what’s it like going into negotiations for better pay and conditions? We asked a delegate who's recently been in the thick of it.

What’s your job?

I work for Immigration New Zealand as a compliance office.

Why did you want to be part of the negotiations?

I do like the challenge. I’ve been a delegate for 10 years and you always want to secure something that will improve members’ lives at work. I suppose I have the view that public service employers can do better and bargaining is one of the mechanisms in which I can play a small part in getting better outcomes for members.

What’s the process like?

At the beginning, both parties set out with the best of intentions. It tends to be very polite and respectful and we manage to achieve a certain amount. However, once you get down to the nitty-gritty, which in most cases is to do with money, things quickly move and attitudes become entrenched.   

I’ve been in bargaining four times and the professionalism of a large organisation isn’t always what you’d expect it to be. It’s interesting when you see advocates on the other side put forward their personal views rather than a ministry perspective. It shouldn’t happen. I always try and come at it from the perspective of what members want, not about me and what I want.

Was it a big step to recommend industrial action?

Yes. Whilst we’d had lots of feedback that members were angry, you always have doubts about whether that will translate into support for industrial action. That was always in the back of our minds. And we were very conscious that most members had no experience of industrial action.

Yet they put on an amazing show of strength

I think it was an opportunity for members to express a number of concerns they had with the ministry. It wasn’t necessarily just because they thought the deal was crap – though they did think that – they were also dissatisfied at the ministry’s approach to employment relations. It was that whole thing about people feeling they weren’t being listened to.

How did members feel about it?

From the feedback from around the country, I think a lot of members found the action quite liberating. They felt really good being together and they began to feel they could make a difference. And they did.

How do you feel now it’s over?

You always end up with something that’s not what you set out to achieve at the beginning. There has to be compromise on both sides in order to reach a settlement. My overall assessment is that it’s not perfect but it’s the best we could achieve under the circumstances.

And it’s the best our members could achieve without the risk of financial penalties. As a bargaining team, we considered going for a whole-day strike to try and get something better. But we knew a lot of members weren’t on great salaries and couldn’t afford a lengthy industrial campaign.

You’re always trying to think for the majority of members and that’s a hard thing. We’re informed in terms of feedback and meetings but it’s always difficult to know if we’re making the right decisions.

The most satisfying thing is that nobody expected members would ever take industrial action. But they did.