New Zealand Law Society - Work to rule in force after strike temporarily paralyses court system

Work to rule in force after strike temporarily paralyses court system

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Court staff around the country are to work to rule for four weeks following the national day of action over pay today (Wednesday).

Court activity was halted for several hours at many courts from Whangarei to Invercargill as about 1500 members of the Public Service Association (PSA) walked off at about 10.30am for two hours with court work reconvening about 2.15pm.

Arrest courts operated at 14 courts between 9am and 10.15am to deal with any overnight arrests.  

Rallies were held in several centres and protesters among the about 300 crowd at Wellington’s Midland Park, carried banners saying Where’s the Justice?, Show us some respect, and No gender pay gap. The latter statement was also topical given that the rally coincided with Suffrage Day.

Court Protest 1

Outside the nearby Wellington District Court, following the rally, PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said staff, which includes court security, officers, registry officers, victim advisers, court reporters, and Family Court co-ordinators, were not being rewarded for their efforts.

“This is industrial action that’s been taken after a long period of negotiation in which we haven’t been able to make meaningful progress on the key things for our members which are getting a decent pay system in place, a fair pay increase across the board and making sure our members get decent progression within  the pay scale.”

Relying on foodbanks

He said many workers are on the living wage which is not enough to cope with rising living costs.

“There is a low-pay issue within the Ministry of Justice and a real challenge in terms of turnover and recruitment.

“The living wage is actually only just under $43,000 a year so that gives you an indication of what people are living on. The average wage in New Zealand is over $60,000 so there are a significant number of people who struggle. We’ve heard stories of staff relying on foodbanks and the like. There is defintely a low-pay problem within the ministry.”

Poor pay affects the legal system

Mr Barclay also said the plight of court staff indirectly affects lawyers and the judiciary.

Court Protest 2

“It’s a real struggle for our members – the job is tough and we think that they deserve better recognition for keeping the courts going.”

A work-to-rule is taking place “for the next few weeks” involving an overtime ban, no working outside of contracted hours of work, and regular common breaks, and the PSA says it is anticipating that industrial action will continue for some time yet.  

All District Court matters which were set down for Wednesday morning will be rescheduled to future dates. 

The Ministry of Justice’s Chief Executive Andrew Bridgman says bargaining on a new contract with the PSA has been underway for several months.

“The ministry remains open and committed to reaching a negotiated settlement and we’re ready to meet at any time.”

He says the ministry has offered a 5% increase over two years, in line with other agreements in the Public Sector.   The PSA has requested an increase of more than 13%.

The work-to-rule will end on 19 October 2018.

[Pictures: Andrew Jacombs]

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