Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her top ministers emerge from ‘constructive’ pay freeze union meetings

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her top ministers met with key union leadership this morning in a bid to ease concerns around the Government’s new pay guidelines.

Those guidelines have been labelled a “freeze” by critics, as they restrict pay increases of public servants earning more than $60,000 a year – Finance Minister Grant Robertson has denied the move constitutes a freeze.

There is a blanket ban on pay raises for anyone earning more than $100,000 a year.

Speaking to reporters this morning, flanked by Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins, Ardern was clearly still in damage control over the saga.

She was fresh from meetings with PSA leadership – meetings she said were “constructive”.

Ardern attempted to pour cold water over claims it was a crisis meeting, saying it was usual for Hipkins and Robertson to attend these types of meetings and this one was a “pre-scheduled” meeting.

“[The meeting was] something that had long been on the cards – I met with the PSA regularly, as do other ministers.”

The meeting this morning was the first of a number on the cards today – a PSA spokesperson said: “We hope to end the day having made progress.”

Hipkins, who is the Public Service Minister, will be spearheading those meetings later in the day – the last one is expected to be around 2.30pm.

“We expect that we will have a little bit more to say on those talks once they have taken place,” Ardern said.

But, when pressed by media this morning, Ardern pointed out a number of times that the Government and public sector unions are still in negotiations.

“We will enter into good faith bargaining but this is our starting point and our perspective on what we need to achieve – that includes lifting our lowest-paid workers.”

From the Government’s perspective, its key focus is lifting the pay for those public sector workers earning less than $60,000 a year.

The Government was not willing to back down on the pay freeze for those earning $60,000 – $99,999 a year – unless under “exceptional circumstances”.

But Ardern was at pains to point out that the Government will still honour collective agreements and some public servants will still be able to move up pay bands.

“That has not necessarily been well understood – some of the reaction has been because of that,” she said.

She said that she has “acknowledged” that despite the fact this advice was contained within the Government’s pay guidance, the Government “should have put more emphasis on the things which haven’t necessarily been out there in the public domain”.

“The fact that people will still move through their pay scales, that existing agreements remain and there will be negotiations.”

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