Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Strikes all round

National's underfunding and attempt to dump the costs of the recession on public servants have resulted in the inevitable: strikes. Two weeks ago, it was radiographers. Last week, lab staff. Today, its teachers. And junior doctors are likely to walk off the job in the near future.

All of these strikes have the same cause: government penny-pinching. Government departments and DHBs are offering nil or derisory wage-rises. And in an environment of high inflation and rising living costs (GST, childcare etc), that is exactly the wrong offer to make to highly trained and irreplaceable staff whose services are in hot demand elsewhere. All of these people can get more money for less work overseas. All of them know exactly how essential they are. And that means they have the confidence to stand up for fairer wages and conditions.

The problem for the government is that not paying them makes everyone suffer. If you don't pay the doctors, people can't go to hospital. If you don't pay the teachers, people have to mind their own kids. And the blame for this goes straight back on the government. The public value the jobs that these public servants do. They know they are overworked and underpaid. And the natural question they ask is why the government isn't paying them what they're worth and avoiding the disruption. Which means a big political headache for the government.

The power to end this is completely in the government's hands. The question is whether they will see sense and make a fair offer, or cling to their anti-worker attitudes and refuse to budge. But if they do the latter, they'll be paying a heavy political price, which will get higher the longer this goes on.