The wave of strike action this year is doing Nelson and New Zealand no good. It has disrupted exports from our port, patients getting operations and children getting an education. The latest notice of industrial action from midwives for later this month adds unnecessary stress for expectant mothers.
The strikes this week hit Nelson’s 55 schools when 340 primary teachers walk off the job on Thursday. It is part of a nationwide rolling stoppage organised by the NZEI and is the second strike in schools following action in August. It means our 6,200 children lose another day of education and chaos for working parents as they scramble to find care and supervision.
This disruption in our schools brings the national total of workers who have walked off the job this year to over 30,000 in over 2,000 workplaces. That’s more in the last year than in the last 20 years combined. It is nurses, wharfies, midwives, teacher’s assistants, bus drivers and teachers as well as thousands of public servants working for ACC, IRD, Ministry of Justice and MBIE. 90% of the strikes are government employees or government funded services. The government even had the printing of its first budget disrupted by strikes.
The root cause of these strikes is Labour’s extravagant promises when they were in opposition. Its policy stated that workers were being underpaid by $23 billion a year. They said workers deserved a 20% pay increase. Workers feel duped and understandably are angry with Labour now in Government saying they can only afford 3%. This is not credible when they are also boasting recent surpluses of $5.5 billion.
The pay problem is also being compounded by the rising cost of living. Inflation is at the highest level in a decade with basic costs like fuel, rent and insurance skyrocketing. Labour has put the tax on petrol up three times and are proposing another three increases. The extra costs the Government is imposing on the insurance and housing sectors is flowing on to consumers.
The risk under Labour’s economic policy is a return to the wage/price spiral of the past. Wages increased by 5% in the last year of the Clark Labour Government, but the inflation rate was also 5%, meaning no real improvement in incomes.
National enabled households to get ahead by keeping inflation down to an average 1% per year over our nine years in government. All income groups under National gained with the average household gaining 15% or $14,000 better off over and above inflation.
Strikes are disruptive and make us all poorer. The best way out of this mess is for Labour to be straight with the unions and workers. They need to apologise for the extravagant policy promises that they now cannot meet. They need to acknowledge the significant increases they are imposing on the costs of living. We need fair settlements that are affordable, end the disruption and which enable working families to get ahead.