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“During the darkest times of this pandemic, police and other essential services stood tall and held everyone else up to allow them to breathe.”
That sentiment from a Police Association member was one of dozens of messages sent by Police staff – constabulary and Police employees – reacting in shock and concern after the Government announcement on May 5 that there would be a three-year wage freeze for public sector workers.
The news was nothing less than a “bombshell” to the association, landing at the very moment its negotiators met Police to begin the 2021 pay round, with the fallout seriously testing the principle of good faith bargaining.
A backlash from the association, unions, Council of Trade Unions (CTU) and the wider public forced the Government and ministers to reshape the narrative around the announcement, but there is lingering confusion.
The negotiations have continued, but with an interim focus on matters other than pay until Police receives its amended bargaining parameters from the Public Service Commission (PSC).
Association president Chris Cahill said the unilateral move by the Government blatantly ignored the fact that many association members and other essential services staff had been at the root of the country’s success in the management of the Covid-19 outbreak and, earlier, the response to the Whakaari/White Island eruption and the Christchurch terror attacks.
“We have made it clear that our members need something tangible from this pay round, otherwise parties will inevitably end up in arbitration,” he said.
The initial situation as proposed by the Government, which it describes as “pay restraint”, was that there would be:
- no universal across-the-board pay increases
- no pay increases for those who earn more than $100,000
- no pay increases for those who earn between $60,000 and $100,000, except “modest progression” within a band, or to address recruitment pressures, or if an increase is comparatively less than those for low-paid (less than $60,000) staff
There will be:
- negotiated pay increases for people in roles earning less than $60,000.
All constables fall into the $60,000 to $100,000 wage bracket. About 800 Police employees earn below $60,000.
Stunned association members have shared their views through a variety of channels, many expressing astonishment, hurt and anger.
Association committee member Sergeant Luke Marygold raised several points reflecting the views of colleagues, adding that some members were obviously confused about what the announcement would mean for them.
“We all know we have to pay for Covid somehow,” he says, “but to attack those who have been on the frontline of the response… It’s pretty hard to have to now say, you guys are the ones who are going to be doing it tough for the country.
“Those who have families and are renting or heavily mortgaged are very worried. Many are already living on the breadline and if the cost of day-to-day living goes up, they will be negatively affected.”
Other staff are simply disillusioned.
“None of them joined to be millionaires, but all of them expect that their wages should be enough so they can get ahead in life. Not just exist. This pay freeze feels like the Government is punishing them.”
For many members, it’s all about fairness.
A member in Wellington had this to say: “Having worked through Covid while other companies were given financial support, this is a real kick in the face.”
Several staff mentioned that the idea of moving to Australia was looking more appealing, with one Auckland constable in his 20s saying he should be “able to do more than tread water on my current wage”.
“If I ever want to get ahead, I will have to find secondary employment, or move to Australia and get at least a $20,000 pay rise straight away.”
Chris Cahill said members’ reactions to the Government announcement had been “utterly understandable”.
The move had been applied “irrespective of the extraordinary commitment of constabulary and Police employees, the ever-increasing calls for service and growing dangers associated with contemporary policing”.
It was undeniable, Chris said, that many association members, and other public servants, had been at the root of the Government’s success in the medical and financial management of Covid, “and this is no way to acknowledge that”.
Members are urging the association to dig in on the issue of the pay freeze, which one member said was “a total middle finger towards Police” and would take years to recoup.
The indignation is palpable in many of the communications from members.
A police officer in Hawke’s Bay whose wife lost her employment due to Covid restrictions says he is “absolutely gobsmacked” about the Government’s announcement. Continued next page.
“I’m sick of the repeated situation where the Government seriously undervalues us.”
A South Island member nearing retirement wrote to say he was concerned for future generations and the career prospects of those who wanted to remain in the job. He pointed out that any degradation in pay put those in the service at added risk of financial pressures “and possible temptation leading to corruption”.
The latter is an important point recognised by law enforcement agencies around the world where poor pay of police officers can make them susceptible to bribes.
A Police employee from the communications centre team had this to say: “The association MUST MUST MUST stand up for us. We are not greedy. We do not want exorbitant pay rises. We just want fairness.”
Chris Cahill has said the Government has entirely missed the mark when it comes to acknowledging the work and dedication of police.
“Never before has our frontline faced so many competing challenges, which should be acknowledged in a fair and balanced increase in their pay.”
He wanted to reassure members that the association would continue to focus on delivering on members’ reasonable expectations as opposed to any Government directives.
A police officer who has been in Police for three years and lives in Auckland with his partner and two young children says the pay freeze is a “kick
in the teeth”.
“We’ve put in so much overtime and hard work making sure this country is safe throughout the Covid lockdown as well as general BAU. As it is, we get paid what would be considered a low income after taxes and our super are taken out. I’m clearing about $750 in the hand a week, which is barely enough for me to survive on, even
“It’s almost impossible to survive. At the end of the week there are zero dollars after rent and food. We’ve been to see a financial advisor and they say there are no other areas where we can save. Everything is going towards the basics of life.
“I’d love to be able to buy a house in the future… I’d love to buy a coffee regularly.
“I’d consider moving from Auckland to buy a house, but I like where I work and it’s difficult to transfer out.
“If police don’t get a pay increase, I will end up earning less than what I started on, when you take inflation into account. I could take a second job.
“I’m still in favour of the Police super scheme, even though the amount I’m paying each fortnight is tough – about $230. But I wouldn’t be able to save that without it being mandatory. It’s going to my super, which is great, and I can’t touch it. But there is no money left for unforeseen circumstances – like needing new tyres for the car. And we are constantly having to rely on parents and borrow money.
“I want the association to get this pay freeze overturned. Why should we be penalised as the lower-middle class for something that we’ve already fought to prevent or assist with?
“I know that, contractually, we are not allowed to strike, but sometimes I think, if we did, someone might listen.
“I want the association to be a strong voice to argue on our behalf. We can’t do it for ourselves.”
A constable who is a solo mother of two teenagers, and has been in Police for seven years, says the pay freeze is a kick in the guts.
“I’m pretty annoyed about the whole situation. Previously it wouldn’t have affected me, but now it does because of my current home life.
“I’m renting, but trying to get a home built. My take-home pay is about $1800 a fortnight and my rent is $680 a week. I end up with about $500 in my pocket a fortnight to work with, which leaves nothing after the bills are paid. I’m dipping into my savings, which I’m supposed to be using for my house.
“I’m looking at promotion to try to help my financial situation, but not everyone can be promoted.
“When I joined Police, the money wasn’t an issue for me, it wasn’t a factor. I joined because I wanted to do something for the community. But now I’m starting to think about what I can do outside of Police to get money to pay for things like the $20 top-up cards for my kids’ phones, so they can keep in touch with me, and new school shoes. I had to dip into my daughter’s savings for those and I felt extremely guilty.
“An extra $100 to $150 a week would help.
“I don’t think Police here are paid fairly in comparison to Australian officers. It has crossed my mind to move there, but my family’s here.
“Some extra support would be amazing. Just something to enrich our lives for standard constables like me. We shouldn’t have to look for promotion for the pay just to live.”