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An agenda for change

An agenda for change - Featured Image - LG Mag Jan 2018

Expect to see more calls for a living wage, local government reform that includes the four wellbeings, and better Maori representation. Glenn Barclay, national secretary, New Zealand Public Service Association.

In its brief time in office the new Labour-led government has shown an appetite for change. What does that mean for the local government sector – for the people who work in local government and for the people who depend on the essential services they deliver? The Public Service Association (PSA) has a comprehensive agenda for change in local government that we’ll be taking to the new government.
We’ll be advocating for policies that support the delivery of quality public and community services, delivered by workers who are valued and recognised through decent pay and conditions. As with all governments, we’ll be arguing that the most effective policy and legislative reform is achieved through inclusive, democratic and transparent policy development processes.
The PSA welcomes signals that fair pay and working conditions will be a priority for this government. Already we’ve seen the rescinding of the last government’s Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill that would have placed barriers in the way of women achieving equal pay. Closing the gender pay gap is a strategic goal for the PSA across our five sectors.
In our local government sector we’ve initiated research into the impact of gender discrimination on the wages of people working as library assistants, and we’ll be investigating this further in the coming year.
Living wage
The coalition partners have also announced minimum wage increases and the payment of the living wage ($20.20 per hour) to core public service workers. The PSA welcomes this for our members in the public service and is active in trying to achieve the same for our members who work in local government.
Last year the living wage movement of unions, churches and community organisations was successful in campaigning for the introduction of the living wage at a number of regional authorities across the country.
Auckland Council, Christchurch and Wellington city councils, and the Wellington Regional Council voted last year to pay the living wage to their employees. Wellington City Council also agreed to pay the living wage to workers in Council Controlled Organisations, and to some workers in contracted services.
Other councils have debated whether the current emphasis in section 10(1)(b) of the Local Government Act (LGA) (2002) on providing services “in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses” prevents them from paying the living wage.
We hope that the new government will remove this putative impediment early on by making clear its intention to repeal this provision as part of the re-shaping of the purpose of local government.
The payment of a living wage will make a significant difference to the lives of these workers and their families, and provides recognition of the important work that they do. The PSA urges all local authority employers to pay the living wage as a minimum to their direct employees and contracted workers. Increases in the minimum wage agreed to by the new government may well put pressure on local authorities to get ahead of the game as employers and move to the living wage.
Quality public services
As well as decent pay and working conditions, we are pleased to see the renewed emphasis from this government on investment in quality public services. One of the most important election issues for our members last year was housing.
We contributed to the Auckland Mayoral Taskforce on Housing at the beginning of last year and went on to produce a book, Ten Progressive Perspectives on Housing, which argued for a ‘great leap forward’ in the way that we think about housing supply, ownership and management in New Zealand.
We’re very happy that the new government has committed to state investment in the supply of affordable housing and we’ll continue to advocate that local government also plays an active role in the provision of affordable, quality housing.
We’ll be asking the government to consider providing low (or no) interest loans to councils to support them to expand their social housing provision. We would also like to see the extension of the government’s income-related rent subsidy to local authorities.
Local government reform
Local government has a key role to play in the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of our communities; a lynch-pin of our local government policy is the restoration of these four wellbeings into the Local Government Act.
We were disappointed with the previous government’s amendments to the Act and opposed its most recent reform proposals. We’d like the new Local Government Minister to sit down with key stakeholders and look at local government reform with fresh eyes.
If we’re part of this conversation we’d like local government reform to reassert the principles of local democracy and the constitutional independence of local government. Council workers and elected officials offer a wealth of expertise and local knowledge that needs to be recognised and properly valued by central government.
As well as the restoration of the four wellbeings in the LGA, we’d want to see a reiteration of the importance of public ownership and control of essential services. We’d also like to see a review of funding arrangements to allow local authorities to meet the changing needs of a growing population.
Maori representation
The new government must show leadership to improve Maori representation and participation in local government. Maori are highly under-represented in local government, and current legislative frameworks do not facilitate either greater representation, or models of co-governance that reflect our Treaty of Waitangi commitments.
At the PSA local government delegates conference in August last year, PSA members voted unanimously in support of a PSA policy that calls for genuinely bicultural models of governance in local government.
We need to learn from Andrew Judd’s experience in New Plymouth and put mechanisms in place that support our communities to be inclusive, courageous and open-minded.
We’d like amendments to the LGA that strengthen Treaty of Waitangi-based governance approaches and a review of the mechanism in the Local Electoral Act (2001) that allows for a general plebiscite to overturn a council recommendation to establish a Maori ward.
At the PSA we’re excited about the potential for change offered by the new government. The attention shown to regional development can go hand-in-hand with the strengthening of local communities. So many of our essential services are delivered by local government; we all benefit when these services are strong and when the people delivering them are valued through decent working conditions.

This article was first published in the Perspectives 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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