New Zealand Public Service Association
|Full name||New Zealand Public Service Association|
|Key people||Mike Tana, president, Erin Polaczuk, national secretary, Richard Wagstaff,national secretary|
|Office location||Wellington, New Zealand|
The New Zealand Public Service Association (Māori: Te Pukenga Here Tikanga Mahi) or PSA is a democratic union representing the interests of around 59,000 members working in government departments, local government, the health sector, crown agencies, state-owned enterprises and community and government-funded agencies. It is the largest trade union in New Zealand.
The PSA represents members on workplace issues, negotiates collective employment agreements and advocates for strong public services. The PSA is affiliated to the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Public Services International.
Though its origins go back to 1890, The New Zealand Public Service Association officially dates from 31 October 1913. The early history of the PSA is one of dogged resistance to cuts in pay and conditions. Public servants were poorly paid and were often forced to take pay cuts when the economy stalled. In 1931, for example, all public servant salaries were cut by 10%. Many public servants suffered acute hardship. It was only loans from the Public Service Investment Society, set up by the PSA in 1928, that prevented many of them falling into the clutches of loans sharks. Working conditions were sometimes poor and unhygienic. An overcrowded Wellington department was described by the PSA as “a compromise between a hot-house and a tin shed erected by amateur carpenters”.
With a change of government in 1936, the PSA began to have some success with its advocacy for public servants. A five –day working week for public servants was introduced. Salaries were restored to 1931 levels, and public servants given the right to become politically involved.
By mid-century, the PSA was a confident, energetic organisation. In 1950 membership was nearly 30,000, 83% of the total public service roll. A major focus of the 1950s was discrimination against women, which was built into the salary scales. By the end of the decade the PSA advocacy had borne fruit,with the passing of Government Service Equal Pay Act.
By the 1970s the PSA was again in resistance mode as pressure came on public sector pay as a result of an economic downturn. It was a decade of political turbulence and industrial unrest. In 1979 the PSA faced the biggest crisis in its existence. In response to notice of strike action by electricity workers, the Government introduced the Public Service Association Withdrawal of Recognition Bill. The bill would have given the Government the power of seize all the assets of the union and vest them in the Public Trustee. In the face of mass protests and a PSA offer to submit the dispute to mediation, the Government backed down and withdrew the bill.
The 1980s presented more challenges. Privatisation of state assets and the restructuring of the public service saw thousands of PSA members made redundant. In 1987 the Government introduced the State Sector Bill which would have taken away most of the current conditions of employment. PSA members held massive protest meetings and a national strike in 1988. This ensured all current conditions were saved.
The early 1990s saw further attacks on unions. The Employment Contracts Act removed unions as a legal entity; unions were now called bargaining agents with very restricted rights.
In the late 1990s, the PSA began looking at ways to break out of the negative relationships which were so common in the workplace at that time. It worked with the Government and State Services Commission to reassess and rebuild a public service decimated by a decade of economic reforms. It developed a new strategy, Partnership for Quality, which sought constructive engagement with government and employers.
In 2000, the first Quality for Partnership Agreement was signed by the PSA and the Government. Though the current government has chosen not to enter into a formal partnership with the PSA, the union remains committed to constructive engagement at all levels of government and with employers.The PSA continues to be an effective voice for its members. In 2006 the union negotiated national pay rates for occupational groups in the health sector and has been successful in breaking the de facto wage freeze imposed on the public service with wage settlements in a number of large departments.
In 2010 the union successfully negotiated a collective employment agreement for its 6000 local government members in Auckland when eight councils and a large number of council-controlled organisations were amalgamated into a single Auckland council.
Despite continuous cuts and restructuring in the public sector and legislation aimed at reducing the effectiveness of unions, PSA membership continues to grow, particularly in community-based services.
PSA strategy revolves round the principles of fair pay, decent working environments and employees having a real voice in management decision-making. The PSA is committed to constructive engagement with government and employers at all levels. It promotes/advocates efficient and effective workplaces and systems that maximise public value. The PSA is not affiliated with any political party.
The PSA is currently advancing a number of campaigns.
Up Where We Belong – raising awareness of the work of disability support services and the need for adequate funding.
Bargaining – seeking fair and equitable pay and transparent pay systems.
The PSA also endorses campaigns that support workers’ rights and better communities. Current campaigns include Fairness@Work, ACC Futures Coalition and Pay Equity Challenge Coalition.
Structure of the PSA
The PSA is a democratic union with members involved in policy decisions at every level. Annual Members' Meetings elect the nearly 4000 delegates who represent the union in workplaces. PSA members are grouped into five sectors. Each sector has a sector delegates’ committee. The elected convenor of each sector is on the executive board which oversees policy implementation and the efficient use of resources.
The executive appoints the secretariat that is responsible for management and day-to-day leadership of the union. The secretariat currently comprises two national secretaries. The PSA has more than 130 staff in 10 locations across New Zealand. A staff representative sits on the executive board. Policy and the overall direction of the union are set by the PSA National Delegates’ Congress held every two years. Congress elects the national president who chairs the executive board.
The PSA structure reflects the unique place of Maori in New Zealand society. As tangata whenua (indigenous people) with a special status conferred by the nation’s founding document, Te Tiriti ō Waitangi. Te Tiriti ō Waitangi, Maori are represented in the PSA (Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi) through Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina – the national body representing the interests of Maori members. Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina has two representatives on each of the sector committees and the convenor of the Rūnanga committee is a member of the executive board.
PSA membership is open to anyone who works in a New Zealand public agency. This includes all government departments, crown entities, district health boards, local government, state-owned enterprises and non-governmental and community organisations providing public services. Membership fees are based on gross annual salary. Fees can vary from $3.60 to $14.20 per fortnight.
- The New Zealand Public Service Association web site
- The Facebook page for the New Zealand Public Service Association
- PSA -100 Years Strong
Remedy for Present Evils – A History of the New Zealand Public Service Association from 1890 by Bert Roth ISBN 0-908798-00-8
No Easy Victory: Towards equal pay for women in the government service, 1890-1960 by Margaret Corner
The State and the Union: An Oral History of the PSA, 1984- 2012 by Mary Ellen O'Connor
White-collar Radical:Dan Long and the rise of the white-collar unions by Mark Derby