Our 2017 election priorities

In the last edition of Working Life, we briefly discussed our members’ election priorities, which were gathered from a survey conducted last year. We’ve now filled out that list with plenty of detail on what our members will be looking for from the next government.


Social Security

Local Government

Public Services

Equal Pay

Community Services

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The New Zealand Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (the PSA) is the largest trade union in New Zealand with over 63,000 members.  We are a democratic organisation representing members in the public service, the wider state sector (the district health boards, crown research institutes and other crown entities), state owned enterprises, local government, tertiary education institutions and non-governmental organisations working in the health, social services and community sectors.

The PSA has advocated for strong, innovative and effective public and community services since our establishment in 1913.  People join the PSA to negotiate their terms of employment collectively, to have a voice within their workplace and to have an independent public voice on the quality of public and community services and how they’re delivered.

PSA vision for housing

 The draft PSA vision for housing is informed by the following principles:

  • Access to affordable, safe, secure and habitable housing is a basic human right;
  • Ensuring all members of our community have access to affordable, safe, secure and habitable housing is a core responsibility of the government;
  • Social housing is a public good – it helps build healthy citizens and strong communities – and therefore requires public investment.
  • The Government should take a lead role in developing innovative, sustainable and healthy social housing.

In New Zealand the state has traditionally provided the largest proportion of social housing (in the form of state housing). We argue that this should be continued, but that the state should work collaboratively with local government and not-for-profit community, iwi and Māori organisations who are interested in direct provision of social housing, and/or in providing support services to tenants.

The PSA wants to see the integrity, dignity and value of the social housing sector restored.  When done well, social housing plays a vital role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of our citizens and our communities.  It can help overcome inequalities and contribute to thriving communities. We want to see state, local government and community housing sectors that provide the low income members of our community with the security and stability necessary to enable them to participate fully and equally in society and in the economy.   We want children to know that they have a home to go to and that their home is there as long as they need it; we want the vulnerable adults amongst us to know that they are valued and cared for and that they too have a home for life.


The housing crisis has dominated public discussion for at least the last 12 months. The effects of a significant shortage of affordable housing for low to middle income New Zealanders are widespread and profound. They include, but are not limited to, high rates of infectious diseases, poor educational achievement, lost productivity, and poor mental health:  “homelessness and poor housing multiply inequalities and have a long-term impact on physical and mental health. The health effects of poor housing disproportionately affect vulnerable people: older people living isolated lives, the young, those without a support network and adults with disabilities”[1].

At the heart of the current housing crisis is a critical shortage in the availability of affordable housing. Insufficient investment in social housing by successive governments has dovetailed with the preference of private developers to build at the expensive end of the market where profits can be maximised.  The impact of this on low to middle-income New Zealanders has been disastrous.   “Per capita, the state housing stock is at the lowest levels since 1949”[2], while in Auckland , where the housing shortage  is the most acute “almost half the new builds …over the past five years were sold for more than $1.2 million”[3].

A major contributing factor to the crisis has been the Government’s Social Housing Reform programme which aims to reduce direct government investment in state housing and create a competitive social housing market. There is growing consensus that this policy has failed and that fresh thinking on social housing is required. With members in the public service, the community sector and local government, the PSA is ideally suited to offer an alternative vision for the provision of social housing.

In March 2017 we surveyed our Auckland membership to understand the impact of the housing crisis on their lives.  We received responses from over 2500 of our members, detailing high levels of anxiety, stress and depression associated with the high cost of housing in the city. Close to half the respondents were living in unaffordable housing.  Over half of respondents said they had considered leaving Auckland for housing reasons. The results of this survey are likely to be replicated across the country. We are looking to a new government to actively intervene in the housing market to address the current crisis.

Ideas for change

Significant public investment in social housing

The PSA supports a significant increase in government investment in social housing. The bulk of this investment should go to the building of quality state housing.  However, the state should also work collaboratively with local government, Iwi, other Māori organisations and the community non-profit sector to support both building and tenant care programmes.

A rejeuvenated social housing sector would have far-reaching benefits.  The combination of new builds and enhanced maintenance of existing social housing would create a quality housing social housing stock that New Zealanders could be proud of again.

Security of tenure is a critical issue for people renting in the public and private sectors. Significantly increasing the level of social housing stock would enable a policy emphasis on the maintenance of stability in people’s lives.   Currently, state housing is seen as a temporary refuge for the most vulnerable, an approach which “undervalues the stability needed for sustainable improvements in social outcomes”[4]. A change in our orientation which saw security of tenure become an underpinning core principle of state housing provisions would “provide growing families and future generations with the stability needed to thrive at school, in work and in the community”. 

The planning and design of new state housing should be done in collaboration with architects, planners and builders and should be informed by leading and innovative principles of sustainable urban design and community development. Providing well-designed and well-built housing could contribute to improved outcomes across a number of domains, including health, mental health and environmental sustainability.  Ideally a comprehensive house building programme would be planned in partnership with local government planners and decision-makers so that housing was built in concert with other infrastructural development.

Obviously a house-building programme will require significant government fiscal investment, which could be met from tax revenue or by borrowing.  The PSA will be developing a separate position on taxation which will examine options for increasing tax revenue from a broader base, to be invested in enhanced public services, including housing.  This will include a discussion on the possibility of introducing a tax on capital assets.

The establishment of a core public service agency for housing

The fractured institutional arrangements for the delivery and governance of housing services and policy advice contribute to the inability of the current Government to provide a coherent response to the housing crisis. With Ministerial accountability shared over three Ministers and four government agencies, it can be difficult for the public and the media to understand who is responsible for the sorting out the problem. 

While we are sensitive to public servant restructuring fatigue, we would like to see a review of government social housing institutions and functions – including policy, needs assessment, tenancy support and management, and housing provision – with a view to amalgamating them in one public service agency. We believe the role of government as the principle provider of social housing should be restored and that it should work in collaboration - not competition - with the community sector.

Any restructuring or re-design of the government’s social housing functions should be done under the Transforming our Workplaces principles of high engagement.  This would entail substantive, meaningful and direct worker engagement in all the processes and decisions involved in designing a new service.  This approach is most likely to deliver a high performing outcome.  Regardless of the preferred institutional model, additional staff are likely to be required, both in the design and delivery of social housing services.

Future social housing policy and service design should be developed in close collaboration with not-for-profit community organisations, Iwi and other Māori organisations, local government and service users. 

Changes to residential tenancy laws

As a growing number of New Zealanders rent, rather than own, their own home, a review of tenancy policies and legislation is well overdue. In a market where landlords hold a considerable power advantage over tenants, a number of legislative changes are required to address the affordability and quality of rental accommodation, improve the security and length of rental tenures, and allow tenants to enjoy their rented accommodation as a ‘home’.  Some suggested changes are:

  • A “warrant of fitness” for rental properties, that would ensure homes are adequately insulated, heated, habitable and safe;
  • A review of tenure limits that would support longer-term rental agreements;
  • Stronger controls over the ability of landlords to increase rents, and the possibility of capping of rents; and
  • Legislation that would give tenants the ability to make reasonable changes to the property to reflect that it is their home:
[1] Eliot, Jake (2014), “The three housing problems that most affect your health”, article in the Guardian newspaper online retrieved 12 August 2016 from https://www.theguardian.com/society-professionals/2014/aug/08/housing-problems-affect-health
[2] Johnson, Alan “Social versus state housing”, Briefing Papers, August 16 s016, retrieved 5th September 2016 from http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/304722/is-nz-facing-a-crisis-of-conscience.
[3] Hickey, Bernard (2016), “Build houses and they will stay”, NZ Herald, 4 September 2016, retrieved 5 September 2016 from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11703478
[4] NZ Productivity Commission (2012), Housing Affordability Inquiry,  retrieved from http://www.productivity.govt.nz/sites/default/files/Final%20Housing%20Affordability%20Report_0_0.pdf, p.16

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Social Security


The New Zealand Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (the PSA) is the largest trade union in New Zealand with over 63,000 members.  We are a democratic organisation representing members in the public service, the wider state sector (the district health boards, crown research institutes and other crown entities), state owned enterprises, local government, tertiary education institutions and non-governmental organisations working in the health, social services and community sectors.

The PSA represents 3600 members who work in the Service Delivery arm of the Ministry of Social Development, 1599 of whom are case managers.

PSA vision for social security

The PSA supports a fair social security system that enables people to live with dignity and to enjoy full social and economic participation, regardless of their employment status.  

People administering our social security system should be supported to be compassionate and innovative in their work, and this should be mandated part of their role.


PSA members surveyed at the end of last year placed income adequacy at the top of their list of concerns for this election.  They are concerned about the impact of low wages and supressed benefit levels on the welfare and wellbeing of their fellow citizens, in particular families with children. Our members are also concerned about growing inequalities.

The deliberate depression of benefit rates, and the exclusion of beneficiaries from accessing one of the Government’s key poverty reduction mechanisms – the In Work Tax credit component of Working for Families – means that many working-age beneficiaries and their children are living in conditions of extreme material deprivation

Current legislative and policy frameworks are characterised by a paternalistic and punitive approach to social welfare that further disadvantages some of the most vulnerable members of our community. The work-at-all-costs mantra is a philosophical fallacy that fails to take into account the economic and social realities of people’s lives and that exacerbates, rather than alleviates, hardship. It also fails to account for the fact that for an increasing number of people, paid work is neither secure nor constant. 

Our members working in Work and Income offices witness first-hand the effect of current policy settings on the members of our community.  Unfortunately our members often become the target of people’s frustrations and anger and they experience unacceptably high levels of physical and verbal abuse.

Ideas for change

Rewrite of the Social Security Act 1964

The PSA thinks a re-write of the Social Security Act is timely.  The principles need to be re-shaped to reflect a more compassionate and non-judgemental approach to welfare provision, and to acknowledge our collective responsibility to ensure all members of our community are able to live with dignity.  In particular PSA supports the:

  • abolition of the sanctions regime;
  • recognition in legislation that work is not always available and that people may have caring responsibilities, or physical and mental health needs that means work is neither possible nor desirable

We consider that the principles of social welfare expressed in the 1972 Royal Commission’s review of the Act are worth revisiting in any re-write of the legislation.

Importantly, a change in the philosophical underpinnings of the Social Security Act - which posited a more compassionate and supportive role for the state in the provision of social welfare - would establish the conditions for an improvement in the working conditions of our members.

As we have noted in our policy paper on State Services, government departments need to actively work to ensure public servants are freed up to make decisions, alongside services users and that they are being supported to be compassionate and innovate. Amongst other things, this means creating a new workplace culture that supports genuine employee engagement and innovation.

Increase basic benefit levels

The PSA supports an increase in basic benefit levels; annual inflation adjustment of all benefits, including Working for Families tax credits; and the upgrading of Working for Families income and abatement levels.

The PSA also supports the re-introduction of a universal family benefit. We have a separate policy on Superannuation which supports maintaining 65 as the age of entitlement.

Reviewing the centrality of the “investment” approach

We have concerns about the growing dominance of the so-called “social investment” approach across government policies, which is also being embedded in legislation.

The investment approach is but one of many tools that can be used to inform the development of policy and service design.  We question putting this approach at the centre of these processes and also the assumptions that underpin it.  It’s effectiveness as a tool is as yet unproven.  In our view the scope of insight it provides is limited and it does not adequately capture or measure the complexity of outcome attribution, in particular long term outcomes. 


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Local Government


The PSA is committed to better local government services and a strengthening of local participation.  We want a better future for local government.

The New Zealand Public Service Association: Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (the PSA) is the principal trade union representing local government workers.  The PSA is one of the few organisations which has a solid overview of the local government sector, not only from the perspective of local government workers and union members, but also from a civil society perspective through its 59,000 members who work in other sectors and are residents and ratepayers in every part of the country.

PSA vision for local government

Local democracy is a cornerstone value for the PSA: vibrant communities are underpinned by strong democratic institutions that aim to support and maximise citizen participation in local decisions.  We support public ownership and control of services and facilities.

The PSA believes that the constitutional independence of local government must be supported and strengthened. 


The current government has taken an interventionist approach which is aimed at reducing the role and powers of local government.   This is reflected in changes to the Local Government Act and other legislation and regulation, as part of its ‘Better Local Government’ policy.   The PSA believes that these changes - alongside interventions such as the installation of commissioners in Environment Canterbury, the over-riding of Auckland’s Unitary Plan to allow more greenfields housing development, and changes to the Resource Management Act to alter the balance of environmental considerations in RMA decision-making - show a fundamental mistrust and misunderstanding by central government (both Ministers and officials) of the role and powers of local government.

Many services which were once delivered directly by local government are now delivered by Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs).  They include water services, infrastructure maintenance services, leisure services, tourism and economic development and so on.  The PSA believes it is a flawed model which adds costs, layers of management and puts governance at arm’s length from elected representatives.  Our experience is, that over time, the terms and conditions for CCO employees are driven down in comparison with the terms and conditions for workers in the parent council.  Mechanisms for safeguarding terms and conditions need to be put in place from the outset, such as ensuring that any CCO collective agreement mirrors the one of the parent council.

The local government funding base is a core source of tension.  Rates are a local tax which government, ratepayers and councils seek to keep as low as possible.  Funding tensions arise when infrastructure investments and service improvements are required. 

Central government has sent strong signals to local government that it must do more with less, lower costs and apply a staffing cap.  All this has had a negative impact on the local government workforce.  Local government workers are coping with growing service demands and a broader and more complex regulatory environment. To meet these increasing demands and provide the capability, there must be an adequately resourced and skilled workforce.

Change is needed.  The 2002 Act envisaged a central–local government partnership relationship, which is now not a partnership of equals (if it ever was).  If we accept that there is a wide sphere of government which encompasses central and local government interacting and collaborating in the interests and well-being of communities, then both direction and definition from a future government are needed to achieve this.

Ideas for change

Amendments to the Local Government Act 2002

The PSA believes that a future government should go back to the first principles of the Local Government Act 2002, reconsider their intention and how they have been applied in practice.  Many of the 2012 amendments should be repealed.  As a matter of urgency the four well beings must be reinstated, as well as removing changes such as the debt and rates caps and the fiscal responsibility requirements

Coordinated sector employment relations

The PSA wants to see terms and conditions standardised across the local government sector, and a consistent employment relations approach.  This would encourage a real sense of cohesion and spirit of service and assist with local government sector career and capability development. 

In District Health Boards, where there is a tripartite Health Sector Relationship Agreement and a forum to support it, multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs) are now the rule rather than the exception and bargaining has become more efficient and effective from both the employer and employee perspectives.  We would like to see a similar approach in local government, strongly supported by central government policy and guidance.  Starting with a regional strategy, then building up to a national strategy, would be sensible.

Living Wage

The PSA is active in the coalition for the living wage, and has been instrumental in the campaign in local government.  While we welcome councils committing to paying the living wage to employees (as Wellington City Council has done), it is crucial that it be extended to contracted workers.  A future government should use its levers with local government to ensure this happens, along with wider adoption of living wage policies.  Since councils cite affordability as the principal barrier to extending the living wage to contracting, our points below about keeping services in house and re-examining the funding base of local government should be considered as part of the solution as well.

Keeping services in-house 

The PSA believes that the default position should be that councils retain ownership, control and delivery of services.  We would like to see a repeal of provisions to create CCOs as part of council amalgamations. Closer control is needed over existing CCOs, including ensuring wages and conditions are consistent with the parent body

The constitutional status of local government

Local government has an essential democratic role, and its legitimacy as a tier of government should be constitutionally protected, as it is in many European Union states, and in the post-apartheid constitution of the Republic of South Africa. We call for a review of the relationship between central and local govt with a view to establishing local govt as having its own constitutional status

Relationship with Māori

We believe there is scope for a wider debate about structures that will support substantive and meaningful Māori engagement in the democratic structures and in council decision-making. 

Re-examine the funding base

The PSA believes that this is another area where a ‘circuit breaker’ is needed.  Different funding models should be explored, and there should be a conversation about what is the fairest way of funding local government service delivery and development for households, business and central government.  


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Public Services


The New Zealand Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (the PSA) is the largest trade union in New Zealand with over 63,000 members.  We are a democratic organisation representing members in the public service, the wider state sector (the district health boards, crown research institutes and other crown entities), state owned enterprises, local government, tertiary education institutions and non-governmental organisations working in the health, social services and community sectors.

The PSA has advocated for strong, innovative and effective public and community services since our establishment in 1913.  People join the PSA to negotiate their terms of employment collectively, to have a voice within their workplace and to have an independent public voice on the quality of public and community services and how they’re delivered.

PSA vision for public services

A strong public sector is fundamental to a thriving democracy and strong communities.  It has a central role in ensuring the power of government secures the full economic and political rights of citizens.  One of the PSA’s four strategic goals is stronger public and community services. 

The PSA’s priorities are for sustainable funding of public services; placing citizens at the heart of public services; a new spirit of transparency and openness of government; a clear relationship between Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the State services; greater impetus from the Commission and agencies to move to a whole of system focus and approach; recognition of public servants as professionals with an essential constitutional role and; employment arrangements that support 21st century public services. 


New Zealand’s state services are well regarded internationally and highly trusted by New Zealanders[1].  There is, however, a step-change needed to position the Public Service to respond to the big issues and challenges of today.  New Zealand has no shortage of big problems needing resolution: climate change, poverty and inequality, an ageing workforce and population, the tension between sustainability and economic prosperity.  Such problems and challenges cannot be left to the private sector - the ‘market’ - to solve.  The public realm - public investment, regulation, legislation, public services – has a vital part to play.

Reports such as Review of the Centre[2] in 2001, Better Public Services[3]in 2011, and successive reports from the Productivity Commission have identified problems with public services including: fragmentation of services; inability to tackle complex and intractable issues; the slow pace and scale of innovation; leadership that is narrowly focussed on organisations and doesn’t manage people and change well. 

Without transparency and openness there cannot be trust, and trust from citizens is what legitimises government.  Citizens need to be able to trust public servants to act in an ethical way, including in the guardianship of their personal information.    Transparency International finds that while New Zealand's national integrity systems remain fundamentally strong, there are weaknesses and increasing challenges[4].  They say that is beyond time to take the protection and promotion of integrity in New Zealand more seriously.  In addition, the 2015 Ombudsman’s inquiry into the operational of the Official Information Act identified “risks and vulnerabilities” that need to be addressed for the transparency and openness intended by that Act to be achieved[5].  This requires more action from government and the state services.

Ideas for change

Sustainable funding of public services

The current government, and the Labour and Green parties have adopted very tight parameters within which to operate public services.  The three parties share a goal of reducing government spending to 30% of GDP and capping Core Crown Debt at 20% of GDP.  This will mean that New Zealand is spending less on public services than every reported OECD country other than Ireland[6] and carrying less state debt than every reported OECD country other than Estonia[7].  

Underfunding public services produces poor outcomes.  For example the historic and ongoing underfunding of child protection services has not driven innovative and efficient service delivery but, rather, has damaged lives.  Assuming that public services are an inherently inefficient and expensive ignores evidence to the contrary[8].  We are seeking recognition of investment in public services as a public good which all citizens have the right to access as needed. 

Placing citizens at the heart of public services and being open to new forms of engagement with citizens

The investment approach is but one of many tools that can be used to inform the development of policy and service design.  We question putting this approach at the centre of these processes and also the assumptions that underpin it.  It’s effectiveness as a tool is as yet unproven.  In our view the scope of insight it provides is limited and it does not adequately capture or measure the complexity of outcome attribution, in particular long term outcomes.

Citizens increasingly expect direct involvement in the processes that more traditionally have been the realm of parliamentarians and officials.  There has been a shift in expectations of the relationship of citizens to the state, from recipients to consumers and, potentially, to co-producers and co-designers of public services.  To meet these expectations, both the Public Service and ministers need to shift to genuinely placing citizens at the heart of public services and be open to new forms of engagement with citizens.

Departments need to actively work to ensure public servants are freed up to make decisions, alongside services users and that they are being supported to be compassionate and innovate. Amongst other things, this means creating a new workplace culture that supports genuine employee engagement and innovation.

A new spirit of transparency and openness in the business of government

A number of measures are needed.  These include:

  • The State services need to adopt a coherent, whole of system approach to integrity – including transparency and openness. 
  • Any incoming government should issue clear, visible statements of their commitment to the principle and purposes of the Official Information Act and their expectations of their agencies to comply with its requirements. 
  • One of the many problems of privatisation is the lack of transparency that follows contracts and services moving into private hands.  We propose that transparency and accountability of the State should extend as far as taxpayer funding of services. 
A clear relationship between Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the state services

For quality public services to address the needs of Māori it is essential that state sector agencies integrate the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi into all their actions and decision-making as a matter of course.

The PSA supports amending the State Sector Act[9] (and the Crown Entities Act) to include reference to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and will also work with both the Government and individual agencies to try and implement this policy through Cabinet decision and adoption by individual organisations.

The PSA recommends that all public service departments, Crown entities and wider state sector organisations take steps to ensure that they understand the principles of Te Tiriti and how they affect the work of that organisation.

The PSA recommends that each department, Crown entity and other organisation in the wider state sector review the quality of their relationships with all relevant iwi, hapū and other Māori organisations.  If they don’t have one already, each organisation should (in consultation with Māori) develop a simple but effective plan to enhance the health of those relationships and put in place a means of monitoring the implementation of that plan.  This should extend to reviewing the state of their relationships with their Māori workforce, including the implementation of a programme to ensure that each organisation meets the employment needs of Māori as described in Ngā Kaupapa o Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina[10].

In addition, the PSA recommends that a central agency be given the mandate to ensure that relationship plans are maintained and to act as a centre of excellence to advise Ministers, departments, Crown entities and wider state sector organisations on trouble spots in Crown-Māori relations as they arise.  A small such agency could be a part of Te Puni Kokiri, or the Ministry of Justice or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.  It could be combined with the ministerial portfolio of Crown-Māori Relationships. 

Greater impetus for the Commission and agencies to move to a whole of system focus and approach

The current government’s Better Public Services programme and its 2013 amendments to the State Sector Act indicated a relatively limited view of the imperatives for change.  The BPS programme has positive aspects, including a strengthened whole of system focus, especially at senior leadership levels, and a focus on continuous improvement.  However, while there has been some recent progress, the basic structure of individually managed and largely autonomous agencies remains.

Greater impetus is needed for the central agencies and departments to move to a whole of system focus and approach.  Reconsidering the currently relatively short term of appointment of chief executives, and in particular the State Services Commissioner, could help support this.

Recognition of public servants as professionals with an essential constitutional role 

The political neutrality of the Public Service and the provision of free and frank advice are recognised and respected as critical cornerstones of effective executive government.  The government of the day rightly expects the public service to deliver its objectives, but the Public Service is not simply a ministerial service.  It is also there to serve the public – this appears self-evident but is all too often not.  A change is needed to recognise this wider role.  This would require formal legal recognition of the status of the Public Service as independent of the Executive.  This is part of the indigenous evolution of our system of governance and concept of citizenship distinct from its Westminster origins. 

Employment arrangements that support 21st century public services

It’s time for a new approach to employment relations arrangements in the state services.  To deliver 21st century public services, employment relations arrangements must nurture the commitment of State servants to the wider cause of public service, facilitate whole-of-government practices and high-trust, effective, productive and innovative workplaces. The employment relations framework set out in the State Sector Act needs to align with these ideas.  

Specific changes needed include:

  • Employment arrangements that support public service motivation and integrity behaviours
  • A more coherent and systems approach to pay, including:  realistic rates of pay; negotiation of pay; fair reward and; more consistent pay and conditions
  • More efficient bargaining arrangements, including: better information about pay; reducing the use of outside consultants as advocates in bargaining, increasing the capability and supply of employment relations specialists; and adjusting the State Services Commission’s role at the table.
  • Increasing payroll capability
  • Creating an exemplary health and safety culture
  • Better facilitation of change
  • Promoting social dialogue and worker voice.

 Further detail of the PSA’s ideas for changes needed to employment arrangements is attached as appendix 1.

Appendix 1

Employment arrangements for 21st century public services

Employment arrangements that support public service motivation and integrity behaviours

It is well established that high public service motivation and the integrity values and behaviours needed in the State services are supported by great workplace cultures.  The PSA and the Commission have spent some time describing the conditions that create such workplaces[11]. These conditions are undermined when staffing numbers are capped at unsustainable levels and State servants work extensive unpaid hours to compensate for this[12]

The cap on public service employees has outlived what usefulness it had as a policy measure and continues to create unintended consequences, such as: professionals in client-facing roles spending a disproportionate amount of their time on administration and; the use of external contractors to make up the capacity and capability gap created by the cap.  This additional capability is expensive and difficult to integrate into departmental workforce and system capability planning.

We do not see the increased use of fixed term agreements and other forms of insecure work, currently promoted in agency workforce plans, as an inevitable feature of the future of work but rather a choice by those agencies. Our understanding of integrity matters, both from the literature and from our practical experience, is that the increased use of insecure employment arrangements undermines integrity cultures and behaviours. 

A more coherent and systems approach to pay

State servants are motivated by their desire to make a difference and will go the extra mile to do a good job. In return they need to feel assured that they are paid fairly.  Agencies are not funded for increases in rates of pay or to resource performance pay systems.  As a result they are able to deliver neither appropriate adjustments to rates of pay or meaningful performance incentives. 

Each agency has its own rates of pay and approach to pay.  Information about this is not shared across the system and there is no attempt made to take a systems approach or even identify key areas of pressure. It’s time for the Commission to assist agencies to develop a more coherent approach.

Realistic rates of pay

We note the reporting of State servants’ concerns about remuneration in the report of the State Services Commission’s Integrity and Conduct Survey 2013[13].  In a 2016 Victoria University of Wellington survey of 15000 public sector workers, only 3 in 10 were satisfied with the amount of recognition they receive when doing a good job and only a quarter agreed that there is a strong link between how they perform and the likelihood of receiving a pay increase[14], despite all agencies having performance-based pay systems.

Pay in the Public Service continues to lose value relative to similar sized jobs in the private sector.  The Government’s policy that pay increases in the Public Service must be less than that of the private sector has compounded this. 

 pubprivatewagemovementsSource: 2016 State Services Commission Human Resources Capability Survey

In addition, the cost of living and housing affordability are increasingly impacting on PSA members working in State services.  Close to half of those delivering public services in Auckland have unaffordable housing.  Around to 1 in 5 spend two-thirds or more of their income on housing[15].

Current policy settings for Public Service pay are unsustainable and a new approach is needed to avoid unwanted and unintended consequences.

Negotiation of pay

The negotiation of pay is central to any negotiation of terms and conditions of employment.  The Employment Court in the Jacks Hardware case has made this clear. And yet there are still a number of departments that refuse to include pay in collective employment agreements.  PSA members working in these departments have decreasing patience with their employer’s lack of willingness to negotiate their pay with them.  It’s time for these departments to front up and transparently bargain pay. 

Fair reward

The gap between men and women’s pay is larger in the public service than it is in the private sector.  That gap is also closing more slowly in the public service than it is in the private sector.  We know, from research done with our members, that women State servants have care responsibilities and are often the highest earner in their households.  To them, the pay gap is not academic but economic.  The State has a responsibility to the women it employs to pay them fairly.  

More consistent pay and conditions

As recognised in the Moran Report[16] in Australia, to improve the connection between services and across agencies it is important to achieve more consistent pay and conditions to increase mobility and improve the capability and adaptability of staff.

Under existing legislative arrangements the best tools for delivering more consistent pay and conditions of employment are through agencies with multiple agreements combining coverage in single enterprise agreements and through multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs).  MECAs could be for either clusters of agencies or whole-of-service. Such arrangements could be supported by a common pay spine or classification system across the public service.  

Current bargaining and pay setting arrangements are inefficient and costly.   We are interested in exploring with the Commission alternatives to current arrangements.  All or any of these options would have the advantage of efficiency, compared to current arrangements, and would enable the dissemination of best practice terms and conditions and approaches to pay.

More efficient bargaining arrangements

A range of other factors contribute to unnecessarily costly and inefficient bargaining arrangements:

Better information about pay and conditions

In 2010 we conducted a survey of public service departments and selected crown entities to find out about their bargaining arrangements. Virtually all of the respondents purchased their own salary survey data, paying between $2,000 and $23,000 a year. This is a significant and unnecessary cost across the system. While the State Services Commission does gathers information about pay from departments, this information is not currently sufficiently leveraged. 

In addition, each State services employer currently holds and owns the formatting of collective employment agreements. Agreement formats are idiosyncratic and there is no shared terminology.  This places unnecessary barriers in the way of all parties making better use of the information and data contained in those agreements. 

Use of outside consultants as advocates in bargaining

In the 2010 survey, a quarter of the 37 agencies who responded had also engaged outside consultants to assist with bargaining in the previous 4 years. Some of those agencies reported the average hourly rate paid to those consultants, which ranged from $175 to $345, plus GST.

In our experience, when outside consultants are used as advocates bargaining has been negative and protracted, lasting for months or even years in some cases. This takes the staff in PSA bargaining teams and HR staff away from other duties. It impacts on the productivity of disaffected staff frustrated by the prolonged and negative negotiations. 

Also, there are perhaps incentives for consultants to demonstrate their worth by advising the use of overly technical and complicated approaches.  In our experience, when this happens opportunities for common sense outcomes are lost.

We are not saying that the outside consultants used lack competence.  Rather, where they are used neither party can realise the benefits of the effort invested by the PSA and agencies in building trust and constructive ways of working outside of the bargaining context. 

Capability and supply of employment relations specialists

There is no clear career pathway, and limited training available for employment relations specialists advocating for employers. Yet these roles involve the negotiation of agencies’ largest cost – staffing.  The capability of advocates is key and something the Commission must continue to invest in. 

The role of the Commission at the table

The Commission, while not present at the table, plays a key role in bargaining.  It has at times played a proactive role in resolving disputes but often the Commission only begins to engage with the union party at the point at which bargaining has broken down.  It might be more efficient for the Commission to be involved more transparently and earlier.

For bargaining to be efficient, both parties must have a clear understanding of the parameters under which they both operate.  While we do have access to the Government’s letter of expectations regarding pay and conditions, there have at times appeared to be other unwritten parameters.  This has not promoted efficient or effective bargaining.  For example, there is no written prohibition from Government on the use of bargaining fees, however we understand that the Commission advises that they are not to be used as they are not supported by Ministers.

Increasing payroll capability

Recent publicity around the failure of some employers to correctly calculate holiday pay has highlighted the importance of strong payroll capability.  The PSA supports the Commission taking a proactive approach to increasing payroll capability in the State services through the proper valuing of payroll practitioners and supporting their access to professional development and accreditation. 

Creating an exemplary health and safety culture

The PSA seeks healthy and safe workplaces for its members. These are workplaces where the voice of workers in health and safety matters is heard through the union and through elected and trained health and safety representatives and committees, and as a consequence health and safety is part of the workplace culture and strong health and safety is a joint goal of union and management.

State sector employers need to be exemplars in identifying and responding to hazards prevalent in their industry. They also need to involve union and health and safety representatives when inspectors and auditors visit the work place and when reintegrating injured workers in their return to work. Being an exemplar would include respecting workers’ privacy and drug and alcohol testing only applying in safety sensitive work areas. 

Facilitating change

As a union, the PSA is not resistant to change.  We are proactive in our constructive engagement with employers to ensure that member interests are represented and that the outcome of any change is fair treatment and decent jobs.  We fully support more effective and productive ways of working, but our experience is that that these are rarely delivered through structural change but depend on a positive and constructive workplace culture. 

Current change management processes do not facilitate meaningful involvement of workers or their union.  It is far more effective to build in continuous improvement processes involving our members, rather than promoting change through the blunt instrument of restructuring.  Where new structures are necessary, early engagement on that change, how that change happens and how workers are engaged in design and delivery of new structures is crucial.

There are other problems too. Restructuring can often lead to a widespread loss of skills and knowledge in government departments, as teams that had previously worked together are broken up and experienced workers move on. It often takes a huge toll on staff, creating widespread fear and uncertainty, especially when it is imposed from above in a disempowering manner.

Restructuring processes are often perceived as cumbersome and we are aware of evolving employer approaches to work around this to achieve greater workforce flexibility, such as genericisation of roles and increased use of internal secondments.  Because there is no agreed framework around such change, these approaches can at times disadvantage people, particularly when a formal change process is undertaken or their return from parental leave.

What is needed is a systems approach to careers that that capitalises on, rather than is undermined by, change.  Such a system should be focussed on whole-of-government management of talent and capability rather than on individual careers and individual performance.  Current employment arrangements do not support such an approach. 

The PSA is interested in exploring with the State Services Commission better ways to do change. 

Promoting social dialogue and worker voice

The productive role of the union in strategic issues beyond collective bargaining could be better recognised and used in departments.  We need new mechanisms to encourage social dialogue at a sector level, within the coverage of the PSA. 

Within enterprises, we are looking for regular forums where PSA delegates can engage on both strategic and industrial matters, as partners representing the collective voice of the workers employed there.

The PSA is seeking the adoption of high engagement and high involvement approaches. When we talk about “engagement” we mean engagement between the employer and the union.  When we talk about “involvement” we mean involving workers through putting arrangements in place that make their participation decisions and processes, both directly and through their union, part of business as usual.

A high engagement, high involvement approach gives effect to the Employment Relations Act 2000 objectives, through promoting constructive and good faith relationships. It unlocks opportunities for innovation and increased productivity through increased employee commitment to organisational goals, sharing of information within the organisation and employee engagement. 

The State Services Commission is well placed to provide leadership and advice to agencies on integrating the arrangements in place for employee participation into wider business strategy and reshaping Human Resources systems to support this. 

[1] http://www.ssc.govt.nz/kiwis-count
[2] http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/review_of_centre.pdf
[3] http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/bps-report-nov2011_0.pdf
[4][4] Transparency International, Integrity Plus – 2013 New Zealand Integrity System Assessment
[5][5] P. 3 Office of the Ombudsman, Not and Game of Hide and Seek, 2015
[6] https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-spending.htm
[7] https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-debt.htm#indicator-chart
[8] https://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/25/a-conservative-case-for-the-welfare-state/?_r=0
[9] For a possible approach to amending the State Sector Act (and the Crown Entities Act) see schedule A
[10] https://www.psa.org.nz/about-us/te-runanga/nga-kaupapa/
[11] http://www.ssc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/positive-workplace-behaviours-april2016.pdf
[12] http://www.victoria.ac.nz/som/clew/publications/PSA-Report_Workplace-Dynamics-in-NZ-Public-Services-2013_Amend.pdf
[14] P48, Plimmer et al, Workplace Dynamics, Victoria University of Wellington, 2013.
[15] P. 6, PSA, Auckland Mayoral Taskforce on Housing, PSA Submission, 2017
[16] Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, March 2010 http://www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/aga_reform/aga_reform_blueprint/docs/APS_reform_blueprint.pdf


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Equal Pay


One of the PSA’s four strategic goals is to close the gender pay gap by 2024.  Equal pay is a human right and has been a longstanding concern of the PSA.  Our first conference passed the following resolution in 1914:

That female employees of equal competence with male employees shall receive equal treatment as to pay and privileges.

The unadjusted gender pay gap in the Public Service was 14% at 30 June 2015, and the narrowing of the gender pay gap has been slowing since 2010.  (SSC, Human Resource Capability, 2015, p. 32)

The key root causes of the gender pay gap are complex and inter-related:

  • “Unexplained” factors such as behaviour, attitudes, assumptions and bias about women in work
  • Occupational segregation, both vertical and horizontal
  • Women’s predominance in unpaid caring work
  • Over-representation of women in part-time and casual work
  • Historical undervaluation of paid work done by women
  • Low level of collective bargaining over pay.

The achievement of equal pay will therefore require an inter-related suite of actions, outlined below.  None of the actions will achieve equal pay alone, they must be implemented together.

Pay equity principles

  • Fully implement and fund the pay equity principles and mechanism for female dominated occupations as recommended by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity in May 2016 and accepted by the Government in November 2016.  Embed the principles into the Equal Pay Act 1972, and make the consequential amendments needed to the Employment Relations Act 2000. 

Resourcing and funding

  • Adequately resource employment institutions such as the Mediation Service and Employment Relations Authority to assist employers and unions to negotiate equal pay effectively and efficiently.  This may require an increase in staff numbers and/or an increase in specialist expertise on equal pay.
  • Adequately resource the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to implement and enforce labour standards on equal pay and the pay equity principles.  This may require an increase in staff numbers and/or an increase in specialist expertise on equal pay, including the Labour Inspectorate, and policy and research functions.
  • Fund equal pay in the state services and publicly funded jobs (e.g. in the community sector).

Mixed work

  • Address sex-based pay discrimination throughout the labour market by developing and implementing principles for work which is not exclusively or predominantly performed by female employees[1] (in addition to the Joint Working Group’s principles on pay equity for female dominated occupations). 

Collective bargaining

  • Strengthen statutory provisions on collective bargaining to enable working women and their unions to negotiate pay that fairly reflects their work.

Division of paid and unpaid work

  • Address the unequal division of paid and unpaid work between women and men, one of the root causes of the gender pay gap.  Align parental leave, flexible work and childcare policies to ensure that they operate as a seamless system.  When statutory parental leave ends, affordable quality childcare should be available until children begin compulsory education, and quality affordable out-of-school care should be available. 
  • When parents return to work, quality flexible work should be accessible to all parents, supported by enabling workplace cultures.  Amend Part 6AA of the Employment Relations Act to:
    • remove the limitation on an employee to challenge their employer’s refusal of a request for flexible work, or failure to respond to a request
    • enable employees to challenge employer’s refusal of a request for flexible work, or failure to respond to a request in the Employment Relations Authority (having gone through mediation first).

State as model employer

  • Use or enforce mechanisms already available to Ministers in the state sector to make the state a model employer in respect of equal pay, such as Government Workforce Policy statements and Letters of Expectations to Crown agencies, Chief Executive performance agreements, good employer obligations, and the delegated authority to negotiated collective agreements in the Public Service.

Minister for Equal Pay

  • Establish a Minister for Equal Pay within Cabinet to oversee and expedite for the government’s work on equal pay.  The Minister would provide leadership and stewardship, across portfolios such as Finance, State Services, Workplace Relations and Safety, and Women.  This will send a strong signal that a government is serious about tackling equal pay, and prepared to hold itself accountable in doing so. 

Transparent information about pay

  • Improve the transparency of information about rates of pay so that sex discrimination relating to pay can be identified.  Employers are already required to maintain wage and time records for each employee.  The Equal Pay Act 1972 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 should be amended to require that:
  • Wage and time records include the sex of each employee
  • Wage and time records are provided annually to MBIE for publication in statistical form

An employer must disclose aggregated pay data by sex for all employees doing the same or similar kind of work on the request of any employee.

[1] Such principles could include, for example:
  1. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure that women are attracted to and enabled to apply for jobs they are qualified for.
  2. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure that men and women are paid the same starting salaries for the same work.
  3. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure women have equal access to salary progression which fairly takes into account family responsibilities.
  4. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure that pay rates and progression criteria are included in collective agreements and are transparent.
  5. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure women are able to access training and other development opportunities equally with men.
  6. Collective agreements should contain terms to ensure the return into the workforce for women after parental leave is managed with part-time work for senior roles readily available.


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Community Services

(Policy detail TBC)

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