NIWA science workers end 17-month industrial dispute

Union members at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research finally have a new collective agreement after 17 months of bargaining and nationwide industrial action.

The Public Service Association says its members at NIWA are relieved the dispute is over and proud to have taken a stand.

"We were ready to strike a second time, but we had a breakthrough at mediation the day before action was scheduled," says PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay.

"Nobody at a Crown Research Institute had ever gone on strike before our members did in November. It took collective action to get a result, and this should indicate there is a growing mood for change throughout the CRI sector."

The dispute centred on three issues; pay transparency, overtime for part-time staff and the passing on of gains won by union members to non-union staff.

NIWA has agreed to annually publish remuneration charts for all staff, detailing how their pay compares to trends in the job market.

A joint working group will be formed to resolve the overtime issue, including representatives from NIWA management and the PSA membership at Northland Marine Research Centre.

The PSA and NIWA have agreed that all future union specific benefits will not be passed on to non-union members without PSA approval, excluding changes in remuneration.

"After spending so much time at loggerheads, we’re glad to have reached agreement on the specific contentious issues. It was always difficult to explain why these relatively minor issues led to such a major dispute, and we argue the real problem was an undermining attitude from NIWA’s senior management toward the union and collective bargaining," says Mr Barclay.

"There has clearly been a shift in attitude on their end, which allowed our members to get a deal across the line this week as opposed to a year ago. We can all now move forward with a more positive relationship and make NIWA a better place to work."


See also: NIWA science workers prepare for first ever strike action

2019-11-19

Employees of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research say they don’t want to take industrial action, but management have backed them into a corner.

Hundreds of Public Service Association members at NIWA will walk off the job across New Zealand between 1pm and 3pm on Thursday November 21st, and will refuse to submit time sheets between November 21st and December 6th.

The striking science workers say their dispute is primarily about respect in the workplace, not pay, and they will spend the strike in their community cleaning up beaches, parks and rivers.

This will be the first industrial action taken by Crown Research Institute employees since they were created in 1992.

"With the threat of climate change looming over our planet and growing community concern about our freshwater, coasts and oceans, it’s hard to understand why NIWA are being so belligerent," says PSA organiser Brett Denham.

"Our members work at the forefront of some of the most critical environmental issues facing the planet and are recognised as international experts in their fields. They would rather focus on research than be forced into going on strike."

PSA members have agreed to NIWA’s proposed pay increase of 2%, but NIWA has refused to settle with the union despite over 16 months of bargaining.

Industrial action was narrowly averted over similar points of contention two years ago, and the PSA is frustrated NIWA has remained unwilling to meaningfully negotiate.

The Crown Research Institute is refusing to allow overtime compensation to some staff working unsociable hours in excess of contracted obligations, and some union members say they feel targeted and discriminated against in the workplace.

Staff are facing significant and stressful disruption as NIWA redevelops three major campuses, and management plans have already led to the loss of valued childcare facilities in Wellington.

Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway has stated he expects Crown Research Institutes to engage in collective bargaining in good faith, emphasising "Good Employer obligations" and prioritising the closing of gender pay gaps.

Going through the motions of bargaining without genuinely negotiating or intending to settle the collective agreement is not good faith.

The PSA calls upon NIWA to live up to Government expectations and the objectives of the Employment Relations Act and start showing respect for the collective bargaining rights of its employees.

"For some reason the people running NIWA are determined to start an industrial conflict with their own science staff, and we can only assume this is motivated by outdated anti-union ideology and a desire to undermine the collective agreement in favour of individual contracts," says Mr Denham.

"From our perspective it’s totally unnecessary and we want to sign a deal, but our members are determined to stand up for their rights if that’s what it takes."