A pay gap, several thousand dollars wide, has prompted civilian workers at the Devonport Naval Base to take industrial action.
Armed with picket signs bearing the slogan: “Bargaining rights are human rights”, employees protested outside Devonport Ferry Terminal to an audience of early morning commuters from 7am till 9am today.
Devonport is the fifth military base to join the national campaign that has affected Wellington, Trentham, Linton, Ohakea and Kauri Point.
Civilian workers are employed by New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to perform a range of roles from engineers and electricians to chefs and administrators.
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National organiser for their union, the Public Service Association (PSA), Nick Kelly said the protest was bargaining for a new collective agreement.
“NZDF continuously refuses to negotiate pay, the most basic of all employment conditions,” Kelly said.
Despite the critical roles these civilians performed in supporting New Zealand’s military, they were offered pay rates that were now thousand of dollars behind the market rate, he said.
Devonport Naval Base engineer Colin O’Brien left the navy 30 years ago, but continued to work as a supervisor on ship repair.
Currently, O’Brien is getting paid $87,000, but said comparable jobs on “civilian street” were consistently at $120,000.
“I expect to earn less from the military, because they do more, but the civilian pay has progressed down. I am on the same pay rate from three years ago.”
Kelly said the protest’s timing, two days after Anzac Day, was unfortunate and not intended. Many of the protesters were ex-servicemen and weren’t keen to be protesting around this time.
However, the dispute has been ongoing since August and the time is now, Kelly said.
To further support the workers’ actions, the PSA had approached the Employment Relations Authority to determine whether a government agency had to bargain rates of pay.
The short-term goals were to have cost-of-living adjustments covered. After that, the union would target those paid several thousand dollars behind the market rate, Kelly said.
“But, we need them to have a discussion about that first.”
NZDF media spokesperson Geoff Davies said the PSA gave the New Zealand Defence Force notice of limited strike action at various locations in New Zealand for limited periods.
“This [Devonport] is one of those actions,” Davies said.
“The NZDF is negotiating with the PSA on this issue and those negotiations are due to continue on Monday.”