NIWA science workers prepare for first ever strike action

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."