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President's Column: Pay round at the mercy of final offer arbitration

When I ask recruits at every wing intake whether they took a pay cut to join Police, invariably the answer is “yes”.

Clearly, people do not join for the money, but they do expect to be valued and recognised for the tough mahi demanded at all levels of policing.

Remuneration is a core demonstration of the value of any employee and Police staff are no different in that respect.

Over the 20-plus years I have been involved with the association, I have taken part in many pay negotiations, but the 2021 pay round is undoubtedly the most challenging to date.

The difficulties are driven by diverse factors, chief among them being the Government’s announcement of a state sector pay freeze on the first day of negotiations. Added to that are the economic uncertainties of a Covid economy, the recent leap in annualised inflation rates and the way the nurses’ settlement of long-standing pay equity issues has clouded the waters of their pay negotiations.

Although Police has constructively engaged in negotiations with the association, it has been clear from the start that the Government is strictly controlling our negotiations through senior ministers and its agencies – Treasury and the Public Service Commission – and they are not inclined to fund a settlement that would go close to reaching our members’ expectations.

This leads us into the difficult realm of final offer arbitration (FOA), which inevitably produces a mediocre result leaving neither party feeling particularly satisfied. The theory behind FOA is that it promotes meaningful negotiations designed to produce a settlement rather than the risk of losing at the arbitration table.

The theory is all very well under normal circumstances, but we are in a situation where one party is not enabled to freely negotiate, so FOA positions end up with a large divide between the parties, equating to the risk of a big downside for the losing party.

The increased inflation figure and unsettled economic outlook paint a grim picture that will be front and centre for members. The nurses’ settlement is a great outcome for them, but of little assistance to us. It apportions a small slice of the settlement to pay negotiations, but the bulk of the offer comes as a down payment on their pay equity case.

The association’s role is to achieve the best possible deal for members, but it must be one that is considered achievable. There is no point in going into FOA with unachievably high demands only to have the arbitrator rule against us, leaving us with only the “satisfaction” of aiming high to send a message.

This option won’t help members pay the bills or bring long sought-after changes to the likes of the TOIL rule, or meaningful reward for the rigours of shiftwork.

In FOA it is the arbiter who chooses either all the association’s final positions or all those put forward by Police. There is no pick-and-mix option. The simple brutality of FOA is that the winner takes all.

Accordingly, we will submit the best-researched and presented argument we can with the goal of maximising our case with the arbiter over the one put forward by Police.

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