New Zealand Law Society - Union says industrial action in the courts far from over

Union says industrial action in the courts far from over

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

The union representing many Ministry of Justice workers is warning the lightning strikes and other industrial action taking place around the country will be exacerbated over the coming weeks.

Discussions are taking place today among Public Service Association (PSA) members about a national strike, which would occur before next Friday (9 November).

Lightning strikes have already occurred in a number of centres over the past 10 days including district, high and Māori land courts as well as the Ministry of Justice’s call centres.

The ministry is describing the lightning strikes with sometimes as little as 30 minutes notice to be "unlawful, unsafe and irresponsible".

Talks on Monday between the PSA and the ministry failed to progress the issue as the union seeks better pay and conditions for court reporters, court security, registry officers, victim advisers, and Family Court co-ordinators.

Work to rule has been in place since mid-September and lightning strikes, lasting for one to two hours, have been taking place around the country delaying cases and postponing court sessions.  

The PSA says the Ministry of Justice has stuck on 1% across the board, while it is seeking a 2% rise.

Increase in the intensity

“You will see an increase in the intensity of actions, so you will see greater disruption,” says PSA assistant secretary says Basil Prestidge.

“It is regrettable but the more we intensify this the more the ministry will take notice. We want to demonstrate to the ministry that they need to come back and talk. There’s no point them saying they want to have a culture that is respectful, that is inclusive that works for people, and yet they sit on the sidelines when such a clear demonstration of reaction against the ministry occurs.

“We want this to end but somewhere along the line the ministry needs to get the message that it is in everyone’s interests to sort this, rather than just ignore it. The more lawyers contact the ministry’s chief executive to say ‘sort this out’ then the better.”

The industrial action has been ‘a disaster’ says the Criminal Bar Association president, Len Andersen.

Action ‘regrettable’ but unavoidable

“The action has been very disruptive for the industry, which is regrettable,” says Glenn Barclay the PSA’s national secretary.

“Obviously, industrial action is not taken lightly, it’s not something that our members want to do but they have been forced into.

“There are a lot of low-paid occupations in the court sector. When the living wage was applied to the public service this ministry had one of the highest numbers of staff directly affected, and now there’s a lot of staff sitting just above the living wage of $43,000 per annum.

“They do not put enough money into staffing and we question their funding priorities. You can’t escape the fact that the low pay is an expression of under-valuing their staff.”

Mr Barclay says there was “nothing new” offered in the talks on Monday.

“We would’ve hoped that they would go into mediation with a reset agenda but there was no extra money on the table,” he says.

Further talks are not scheduled but the PSA hopes they can resume as soon as possible.

Ministry condemns action and intends on stopping it

Carl Crafar, Chief Operating Officer at the Ministry of Justice, says what is has offered is generous.

"The Ministry has a budget of 3% of its annual salary bill for pay increases this year and 3% for next year, which is consistent with other public service agencies, and has attempted to work with the PSA in how best to use this budget in maximising increases for its people. The Ministry has also offered an additional $750 one-off payment to PSA members for 2018. The PSA initially presented a pay claim which added up to more than 13% during this period, more than double the Ministry’s budget. They have subsequently reduced their claim to 11%.

"As bargaining negotiations have not been successful, the PSA have signalled their intention to continue industrial action including short notice strike action, despite the ministry raising serious concerns about the health and safety risks of this approach. An application in the Employment Court for an injunction against short notice strike action has been filed by the ministry, and will be heard on Monday, 5 November.  We have taken this action as we feel we have been left with no other choice to ensure the safety of our staff, the public and the judiciary.  

"The industrial action is sporadic and different from court to court so it is hard to gauge the impact on the courts work. The ministry is doing its best to minimise the impact.

"However, the health and safety of everyone who works in or visits New Zealand’s courthouses is our highest priority.  We consider the PSA’s decision to strike with only 30 minutes notice at crowded and busy courts to be unlawful, unsafe and irresponsible.  We will do everything we can to protect everyone working in or visiting our courthouses."