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Public service association members on a picket line in Auckland, 2018 (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
Public service association members on a picket line in Auckland, 2018 (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 12, 2021

The Bulletin: Unions win concessions on public servant pay

Public service association members on a picket line in Auckland, 2018 (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
Public service association members on a picket line in Auckland, 2018 (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Unions win concessions on public servant pay, new and horrific allegations made at Royal Commission, and auditor-general urges wage subsidy breach prosecutions.

Well, I think now we can all agree that it is no longer a pay freeze. The government has effectively given several concessions to unions, after a series of meetings that took place yesterday. Now again, as with much of this story, that wording is not how the government would characterise it, but I stand by it as an accurate reporting of what has actually happened.

So what were the concessions? Our political editor Justin Giovannetti filed the following to our live updates:

The pay guidance from public services minister Chris Hipkins that is at the centre of the ongoing issue will now be reviewed next year as well, the Council of Trade Unions said in a statement after meeting the minister. It’s unclear whether that means the pay freeze on people earning more than $100,000 could be lifted as early as next year.

The CTU said [public services minister Chris] Hipkins was also willing to discuss adding automatic cost of living increases to all members covered by collective agreements. In a statement, Hipkins denied that his position had changed from last week, but then said that he would review his guidance next year and was open to discussing the automatic increase.

Under the minister’s guidance, public servants paid more than $60,000 will see their pay effectively frozen for the next three years, except for those with contracts receiving step-based increases or with annual cost of living increases. Adding both of those automatic increases to all workers would be a significant change to contracts that would greatly lessen the impact of the government’s announcement last week.

A couple of other interesting things to read on this all: Business Desk’s (paywalled) Pattrick Smellie has gone into what the changes might mean for upcoming collective bargaining and pay negotiations. Stuff’s Dileepa Fonseka analyses why the government appears to be encouraging the public workforce in the direction of becoming contractors, rather than employees. And Duncan Greive plays some 5-dimensional chess to try and figure out what the master plan behind the policy was.

Meanwhile, in other government corrections: The health ministry has apologised to the minister and the public for giving incorrect information on a stripped down mental health report. Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports that information was then incorrectly repeated by health minister Andrew Little in parliament – Little subsequently corrected the record.

Many of the allegations made during the royal commission into state care abuse have been horrifying and disgusting. And content warning, the following is a particularly extreme example of that. Stuff’s Sophie Cornish reports an allegation has been made that boys in the notorious Epuni facility were prostituted out to Catholic church officials, which the witness also alleged was currently being investigated by the church. The alleged architect of the system was former housemaster Alan Moncrief-Wright, who was subsequently convicted of sexual violation offences, and has since died.

The auditor-general has urged prosecutions for those who wrongly accessed the wage subsidy scheme. The NZ Herald’s Hamish Rutherford has covered an AG report into how the scheme was rolled out and used. In general terms, the report found use was generally pretty sound, but in some instances the high trust model was abused, and MSD didn’t always rigorously check whether applicants were eligible. As of March, more than $700 million of the $14bn scheme had been repaid, with $23 million “compulsorily recovered”.

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Taking guns off gangs is clearly a worthwhile thing to aim for, but the government’s new Firearms Prohibition Orders are sparking concerns about overreach and misapplication. Newshub has a story which covers the details of the FPOs, and how the new law is meant to work in practice. But there has been some criticism. One News reports the Māori Party will fight the law changes, on the grounds that they will disproportionally target Māori people. And the Sensible Sentencing Trust has made the point that gangs don’t particularly care about the law, so the new FPOs are somewhat moot – though their proposed solution of giving police more warrantless search and surveillance powers is extremely authoritarian.

A massive protest for Feilding: The Manawatū Standard’s Sinead Gill reports about 500 people marched to demand the Manawatū District Council introduce a Māori ward in time for the 2022 local elections. It came in response to a decision not to by the council, which was followed by a dozen marae cutting formal ties with the council in disappointment. There have of course been protests and activism around the country, both in favour of and against local councils introducing wards. But the situation is particularly acute in Manawatū – the report suggested that only one Māori person had ever been elected to the district council.

An alarming and heartbreaking story about children looking after their disabled siblings: TVNZ’s Sunday show has revealed an “invisible army” of carers, who aren’t officially recognised or counted. They’re having to carry incredibly heavy responsibilities, and that can lead to the carers having problems in their own life down the line. There’s a moment in the story where a child who is also a carer mentions that she never gets a good night’s sleep, and it really hits home that people in her situation need more support.

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This year, we’ll have three celebrity shows and 40 slots to fill. How on earth will we do it? (Image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Kingsley Dixon writes about scientific bias towards pretty plants, and why ugly plants need love and research too. Justin Latif covers accusations that Phil Goff is running a bit of a “Boys Club” council. Jihee Junn has a beginner’s guide to the financial aspects of buying a house. Josie Adams explains cryptocurrency slang. Alex Casey picks out the best business lessons from Mike Pero on The Apprentice. And Sam Brooks has an important opinion piece about the current undersupply of celebrities to fill the saturated celebrity TV show market.

For a feature today, an English-language outline of some aggressive border settlement tactics from the Chinese government. I put that caveat on it, because much of this information has apparently long been in the public domain in China. But as Foreign Policy reports, China has been subtly but surely encroaching on Bhutan, perhaps with an eye on a bigger neighbour. Here’s an excerpt:

By 2005, this led Bhutanese herders to withdraw to the south of the Beyul, and the Bhutanese soldiers posted there, who depend on the herders for supplies, went with them to the south, where neither they nor the herders would have known of the construction work in the northern Beyul. In Thimphu, officials probably assumed that these clashes between herders were minor provocations by Beijing. Such incidents had become commonplace in all the areas of Bhutan claimed by China, and there was no precedent suggesting they might escalate to major construction, still less settlement; it could hardly have been imaginable that China would take such a step.

Today all of the Menchuma Valley and most of the Beyul are controlled by China. Both are being settled. Together, they constitute 1 percent of Bhutan’s territory; if it were to lose them, it would be comparable to the United States losing Maine or Kentucky. If Bhutanese troops try to reenter these areas, they will have to do so on foot and, given the lack of infrastructure on their side, would be immediately beyond the reach of supplies or reinforcements. The Chinese troops would have a barracks close at hand, would be motorized, and would be only three hours’ drive from the nearest town in China.

Sometimes athletes are criticised for being too bland, and never speaking their mind. Well, you could never accuse Australian basketball star Liz Cambage of that. There has been a controversy blowing up over the Tasman about promotional photos showing a “whitewashed” Olympic team, with Cambage throwing the accusations. Wide World of Sports has covered the wild story, and Cambage’s apparent hint and then retraction of a threat to boycott the games. She seems cool, and I’m looking forward to seeing her on the court.

And a bit of breaking cricket news: NZ Cricket has announced that after the England tour and World Test Championship final, wicketkeeper BJ Watling will retire. He’s an unsung hero who has arguably been the most valuable keeper-batsman in the world over the last decade, and also holds the NZ record for most fielding dismissals. Watling’s announcement was made now because the NZC central contract list will be coming out soon.

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