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Council disappointed at Union stance

8 March 2005

Christchurch City Council has accused the Southern Local Government Officers Union (SLGOU) of blocking its move to redress inequities in pay scales for its workers that reflect labour market conditions.

Council Chief Executive, Dr Lesley McTurk, says the union which today issued notice of a four-hour strike on 24 March, is creating unrealistic expectations of an annual across the board wage increases for its members.

“We are naturally very disappointed at the union’s decision to take industrial action, particularly given that it has not presented our offer from last Friday to all its members,” Dr McTurk says.

The union, determined to secure an archaic across the board increase for staff, appears to have trouble articulating the offer to its members. Local authorities not represented by SLGOU, moved to the position the Christchurch City Council is now seeking, 10 years ago.

Dr McTurk says throughout negotiations and again with its latest action, the union has demonstrated how completely out of touch it is with the realities of the labour market, business conditions and employment conditions applying throughout Local Government.

Of the 1150 staff represented by SLGOU, 500 are paid at or above the median rates prevailing in the Local Government market.

“Our staff are paid very well compared with other workers. We are not trying to take away any of their present pay or conditions. What we are trying to achieve with our offer is to address the supply and demand issue in the labour force,” she says

“To attract staff in highly qualified areas such as engineers and planners, we need to recognise that their skills are in demand nationally and internationally. We have to work towards meeting the market and if we don’t, we won’t fill the vacancies and our city’s progress will suffer,” Dr McTurk says.

“Workers at the lower end of the pay scale are queuing up to work at the Council because our rates are way above those prevailing in private enterprise and other local and central Government departments. We are out of synch and we are trying to address that.

“We could have corrected the inequities by putting all the money into workers at the top end, but we’re trying to be fair and reasonable and have offered something for everyone.”

Dr McTurk says four other unions representing council workers recognised the Council goals to move the organisation forward and to reward performance. All settled their collective contracts last year. Staff on individual agreements also settled their contracts last year at a less than 2 per cent increase in their wage budget.

“What we’re proposing to staff represented by the SLGOU is a range of one-off payments and wage increases that will redress the inequities. Their conditions including 37.5 hours of work a week, overtime, generous redundancy and sick leave, five weeks holiday and an annual service allowance based on tenure are not part of the current negotiations.”

The council believes that the union’s constant reference to comparisons with the Chief Executive’s salary is an inappropriate personal attack and a sign of desperation.

The Chief Executive is employed by the Mayor and councillors, she is on an individual contract for a fixed five-year term and has different terms and conditions. Being chief executive is a seven-day a week job, and she is rewarded financially based on performance. Her remuneration is in line with that for others in similar position in other local authorities.

The Chief Executive receives appropriate pay for the job size, which is precisely what the council is aiming for in redressing the distortions in its pay rates for all staff.

Dr McTurk says Council managers have started planning for industrial action. Essential services such as water, rubbish and sewage will not be affected.

Attached is a graph (PDF 22KB free PDF reader) showing the individual pay rates of staff that are part of the collective agreement. It shows all salaries compared to the national local government market medians.

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