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Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund
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PoliticsApril 18, 2024

An updated tally of the public sector job cuts

Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund
Image: Stewart Sowman-Lund

The coalition government has made it well known it expects departments to cut roles. We break down the numbers as they currently stand.

Updated: 3.15pm May 2

Before last year’s election, both National and Act made it clear that the public service was squarely in their crosshairs. Both parties, now in a coalition government alongside New Zealand First, said the public sector had become too bloated under the Labour administration and promised to slash jobs to save costs if elected.

Six months and one 100-day plan later, we’re starting to see the outcome of these election pledges, with several ministries launching proposals in recent weeks that would see job numbers reduced. 

There are a few figures worth bearing in mind before we look at individual ministries. Government departments have been instructed to find cuts that amount to about 6.5% (or in some cases 7.5%) in savings – that’s the figure Nicola Willis put out before the election and that the coalition is now striving for. “Departments have been asked to identify savings options of either 6.5 or 7.5% depending on how much their full-time equivalent staff numbers (FTE) have increased since 2017,” said Willis’ office earlier in the year. 

David Seymour during the election campaign said he was looking to cut 15,000 positions, which is well above 6.5% of roles.

Does this just mean job cuts at ministries?

Not necessarily, but it’s often the easiest route. The government is also targeting costly projects like the now-scrapped Let’s Get Wellington Moving. The Post reported that the ending of the project has resulted in $1 million of redundancy payouts, though the number of job losses isn’t known (there were 38 permanent and fixed-term staff seconded to LGWM). MSD, meanwhile, has offered voluntary redundancy to some staff after previous cost-cutting action that included reducing contractor numbers, travel costs and even ditching plunger coffee in the office.

How many workers are we talking about?

As Henry Cooke wrote for Stuff earlier this year, as of mid-2023 there were 63,117 full-time workers in the public service. That’s a significant increase from the roughly 50,000 roles filled at the end of the John Key-Bill English era. Cuts of 6.5% would amount to close to 5,000 job losses. 

The state of play

Let’s take a look at where we stand as of May 2, 2024. This list will be updated as more ministries announce cuts.

Ministry of Health

As was reported last week, the Ministry of Health is proposing 134 job cuts to meet the government’s demands. “Ministry of Health staff are meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss the proposal,” reported RNZ, adding that consultation will close on April 26 and a final decision will be made the following month.

The figure of 134 is lower than an earlier number of 188 that was reported. That would have amounted to 25% of Ministry of Health staff.


MBIE remains in a state of flux although 268 of its 6,500 staff have been culled, as of Thursday. This includes a number of redundancies along with some workers that were forced to leave. There are likely more on the way, as the ministry faces rolling redundancies to meet the government’s public sector targets.

Ministry for Primary Industries

MPI is a mega ministry which means it encompasses several departments, for example Biosecurity NZ. There are so far 384 job losses within the ministry. 

According to Stuff, 40% of these roles were already vacant. More detail on further cuts is expected as soon as this week.

white woman with dark hair next to NZ flags
Finance minister Nicola Willis called for cuts of 6.5 or 7.5% ahead of her May budget (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Crown Law

The government’s legal affairs office confirmed last month it had been instructed to make cuts, which would potentially include lawyer roles. “If roles are disestablished our priority will be to find suitable reassignment opportunities across Crown Law. However, the proposal could result in a small number of redundancies,” a spokesperson told The Post.

According to Stuff, 18 roles are set to go from Crown Law.

Department of Internal Affairs

There will be 28 jobs cut at the Department of Internal Affairs, with RNZ reporting these will come from the National Library and the Māori, Strategy and Performance branch. It will include some legal roles, with the Public Service Association warning it could mean external contractor costs rise. “The government promised to clamp down on contractor spending, so how does this make sense? This is spending more on contractors and consultants, not less,” said PSU national secretary Duane Leo.

Ministry for Ethnic Communities

Late last month the ministry revealed that 32 roles could be disestablished, though these would be replaced with 23 positions, resulting in a net loss of nine jobs.

Consultation is under way in order to reduce permanent staff at the ministry by 14%, RNZ reported, which would include reducing representation in regional government offices.

Ministry for Pacific Peoples

As many as 63 roles – or 40% of the workforce – are on the chopping block at the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.

It’s perhaps not unsurprising given David Seymour’s repeated remarks about the ministry (which, infamously, included a “joke” about Guy Fawkes bombing it).

Ministry of Social Development

It’s unclear so far how many roles will be slashed at MSD, with a voluntary redundancy process under way. It’s one of the larger and more prominent ministries, with around 9,000 staff, which could mean a higher number of roles cut if it too has to meet the government’s demands. Along with redundancies, the ministry’s boss Debbie Power said a further process “targeting role reductions” will be needed in the near future, mainly within the national office.

Ministry for the Environment

Rolling cuts and redundancies were announced for the ministry on April 8. Staff were called to a meeting at lunchtime, where layoffs were proposed in order to meet the government’s cost-saving measures. “While the impact of the savings exercise on our work programme and jobs won’t be clear until after Budget 2024 on 30 May, we know our organisation will need to reduce in size.  Staff have been told redundancies are likely,” said the ministry’s deputy chief executive, Laura Dixon, as reported by Stuff.

“From today, staff will have the opportunity to submit an expression of interest for voluntary redundancy, before a likely formal change proposal and consultation process later this year.”

Ministry of Transport

There have been 24 roles cut from the Ministry of Transport, though most were already vacant.


Before the weekend, Treasury said it was considering cutting 50 roles, some of which were already vacant. “Final numbers cannot be confirmed until Budget decisions have been taken.”


As many as 90 roles at Niwa could be cut, the Public Service Association said on Tuesday. That would amount to 13% of the agency’s workforce. The PSA’s national secretary Duane Leo called the move “utter madness” and said the agency should be getting more investment if the government was serious about tackling critical climate, marine and other environmental issues.


An unknown number of jobs were expected to be cut from Customs back in February, with the Public Service Association warning it could impede the agency’s ability to carry out important work at the border. Since then, The Post has confirmed that 34 jobs were culled through a round of voluntary redundancies.

Ministry for Culture

Manatū Taonga is proposing reducing its workforce down to 150 full time staff members from 161, Stuff reported on Thursday, a drop of 11 workers. That would mean cuts of 7%.

Department of Conservation

It’s been reported there could be as many as 130 job losses at the Department of Conservation. That would involve 270 positions being disestablished, of which 101 are currently vacant, and another 140 new roles created. But this number could change, the agency said, providing a statement to RNZ.

“The proposals include a reduction of 130 roles overall, however we expect the impact on people to be less than that because we have been holding a large number of vacancies since November,” read the statement.

“The final number of redundancies won’t be known until we have consulted our people and we have been through a management of change process.”

Commerce Commission

A proposed restructure at the consumer watchdog will see it lose between 35 to 40 roles, according to Stuff. This would represent about 10% of the commission’s total workforce. It has started a round of voluntary redundancies.

Callaghan Innovation

Crown entity Callaghan could see about 30 roles, which would include scientists, lost from its workforce of nearly 400.

Oranga Tamariki

The agency supporting vulnerable children has proposed a loss of 447 jobs, though the agency’s boss, Chappe Te Kani, said the cuts would “put children at the centre of all we do”. Minister for children Karen Chhour agreed, telling RNZ: “”We’re looking at making sure that every cost saving that we do in the back office is re-directed to the frontline services.”

The Public Service Association called the job losses “savage” and said it will have a negative impact on young New Zealanders. “Oranga Tamariki has been subject to review-after-review in recent years with significant leadership changes. No review has ever concluded that large scale dismissals of specialist staff is the answer,” said the PSA’s Fleur Fitzsimons. “Yet today we have a restructure which sheds skilled workers and loads up those who remain with new responsibilities simply to save money. The stakes are too high to take this approach, with the lives and wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi at risk.”

Ministry of Education

On the same day as Oranga Tamaraki revealed job losses, so too did the Ministry of Education. It has proposed 565 positions be slashed, though 225 of these were already vacant. That would represent a 12% reduction in the ministry’s workforce, according to the PSA. “This plan includes scrapping 91 jobs in the regions – people doing work including supporting children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, advising schools on accessing speech and language therapy, lifting student achievement and helping ensure schools run smoothly,” said Fitzsimons.


In November last year it was confirmed that 113 jobs would be lost at Worksafe. The PSA called it a “rushed” restructure and a sad day for those who have lost their jobs.

Stats NZ

Also before Christmas, 39 jobs were cut at Stats NZ, the government’s public data agency.

Tertiary Education Union

Charged with overseeing universities and polytechs, of which there are a surprising number in New Zealand, the government agency announced earlier in the month it would be cutting 28 jobs. RNZ reported these were positions “mainly held by women” and were primarily administration and clerical roles, executive officers and business support. Nine of these roles were already vacant.

Productivity Commission

The entire commission was dumped in February, meaning about 20 staff lost their jobs in one go.

Ministry of Housing

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is proposing to cut 40 roles, reported RNZ on May 2. Of the roles being ditched, 10 were vacant. It amounts to a 10.4% reduction in the overall workforce. Final decisions on the proposed cuts will come mid-June.


Following the postponement of a proposed update of the high school curriculum, the qualifications authority has proposed cutting 35 roles. That accounts for the fact that 13 jobs are vacant, 66 positions would be disestablished and 31 new positions would be created.

Kāinga Ora

Ahead of a long-awaited review into the agency by former prime minister Bill English, 130 cuts have been proposed. “The cuts at Kāinga Ora are rushed and ill considered,” said the PSA’s Fleur Fitzsimons. They come, she said, at a time when the country is facing a housing affordability crisis.

“The government needs to release the review immediately as this reckless approach to change risks disjointed decision making and creates more distress and uncertainty for staff.”

Where does this leave us?

A number of ministries have yet to announce proposed job cuts, but more will be on the way. In the meantime, totalling up the proposed cuts listed above comes to about 2,730 which remains below the 6.5-7.5% figure – and significantly lower than David Seymour’s desired total of 15,000. Some other ministries went through earlier rounds of restructuring, meaning the number of roles being disestablished could actually be higher, not to mention the cancellation of proposed water reforms that led to hundreds of roles being cut (Stuff has the total figure at over 3,500, for example). And there are many more departments still to make public how they intend to save money.

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