After nationwide strike, science workers refuse paperwork

When scientists, lab technicians and support staff at the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) walked off the job this week it was the first strike by staff at a Crown Research Institute since their creation 27 years ago.

Workers on strike at Greta Point in Wellington

Public Service Association members from the Wellington Region, and the rest of NZ, are now taking part in an ongoing partial strike.

They are refusing to fill out timesheet paperwork until December 6th.

Impact on NIWA’s finances

This will impact upon NIWA’s ability to generate income.

Roddy Henderson is a hydrologist who works for NIWA in Christchurch, and says he took industrial action to defend his collective agreement from management’s union-busting agenda.

NIWA workers demonstrate at Bream Bay, near Marsden Point, in Northland

“I’ve only been on strike once before in my life, in 1979 when Muldoon tried to deregister the PSA,” he says.”I never expected that 40 years later I’d have to do it all over again, and for similar reasons.

Negotiations dragged out

“NIWA have dragged out negotiations for 16 months and now our collective agreement has expired, so new staff have to go on individual agreements. It’s not good enough.”

NIWA’s employees in Bream Bay are rostered to work overtime every third weekend, and while most receive compensation for this NIWA management have refused this to some part-time staff. 

PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay says the union has found negotiations with NIWA a deeply frustrating experience.”We don’t often encounter employers with such an outdated and hostile approach to bargaining.

“The issues at stake should not be hard to overcome,” says Mr Barclay.”We want them to provide fair overtime compensation for a small number of part-time staff, pay transparency data showing what staff are paid compared to others in comparable roles elsewhere, and a bit more of a culture of respect in the workplace. Is that so much to ask?”

The union leader says if NIWA had been genuinely negotiating in good faith with the intention of settling an agreement, a deal would have been struck months ago.

The strike even reached Pelorus Sound

Having already agreed to a 2% pay increase, the PSA feels NIWA are refusing to settle because they simply don’t want staff to join a union.

“We think this could have been settled without a strike, but our members are not prepared to just roll over and accept whatever an autocratic management team dictates them,” says Mr Barclay.”

We look forward to them changing their approach and bargaining in good faith, but if no progress is made our members will make plans for further industrial action.”

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