NZTA dispute set to spread

Last updated 12:00 06/12/2013

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Union-organised walkouts at the New Zealand Transport Agency could happen "at any time, in any place", with a performance-pay dispute that started in Palmerston North on the brink of being repeated nationally.

About 100 Palmerston North staff from the Engineering, Manufacturing and Printing Union-represented NZTA national call centre in Ferguson St walked out of their offices and into The Square on Monday.

The two-hour protest was fuelled by an across-the-board no-change pay offer, with pay rises only going to those who had performed effectively throughout the year.

NZTA has refused to budge on its offer and EMPU protest organiser Laurel Reid said this was unlikely to change before Christmas.

"It's not an acceptable response, from our point of view. We got a 98.7 per cent mandate from the workers in Palmerston North that they wanted industrial action and that means it could happen again.

"It might be a walkout, it might be something else but it could happen at any time, in any place now."

The Public Service Association, which represents NZTA staff nationally, says it will follow call-centre workers into industrial action for the first time unless the NZTA negotiates on employee pay.

"Negotiating pay is a fundamental part of collective bargaining and it is astounding that NZTA is stubbornly refusing to talk about it," PSA assistant secretary Jeff Osborne said.

"Instead it wants to continue using a performance-pay system which is essentially broken. Many union members have little confidence in it, saying it is neither fair nor transparent.

"Under the current system a number of our members get no pay rise at all, while for others it can feel like a lottery."

NZTA spokesman Andrew Knackstedt reiterated that the public body and unions had "fundamentally different positions" on the current offer of remuneration on the table.

"The agency does not agree with the union's position that increases should also be given to the small number of staff whose individual performance has rated poorly, or to those who are already high in their salary bands," Mr Knackstedt said.

"As a publicly funded organisation we have an obligation to . . . encourage our staff to strive for excellent performance in order to provide the best possible services to our customers."

The PSA is likely to undergo "urgent mediation" with the NZTA a week before Christmas and if the results are unsatisfactory, nationwide walkouts are likely.

"Our members have made it clear that they want to make every reasonable effort to try and get a fair deal before pressing on with any action," Mr Osborne said. "This is the first time ever our members . . . have voted in favour of industrial action and it's a clear reflection of the frustration they are feeling."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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