The quiet swearing-in ceremony of the new Tauranga City Council was interrupted by the loud chanting of council staff on strike for two hours.

About 50 picketing council staff chanted, "What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Now!" directly below the council chambers as the swearing-in was taking place.

Tauranga City Council staff claim they have been deliberately underpaid for years.

Tauranga City Council workers on strike

Posted by Bay of Plenty Times on Wednesday, 23 October 2019

One woman shouted, "What do I want? I want to pay my rent on time!" Among the group of people holding signs, some read "I couldn't afford to make a better sign" and "Stop funding projects out of staff salaries".

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A woman told the Bay of Plenty Times she received a text from someone inside the council meeting saying that the sound was disruptive.

A parking warden employed by the Tauranga City Council, who wished to be known as Peter, said he had been employed by the council for nearly 16 years but he was not paid 100 per cent of his pay band.

Tauranga City Council staff picketing outside the council chambers. Photo / Jean Bell
Tauranga City Council staff picketing outside the council chambers. Photo / Jean Bell

He said he was on strike as the council expected him to train new employees yet stand by as the new staff were paid more than he was.

"It's frustration over a long period of time," he said. "It's quite a tough job."

He said there was the misconception that parking wardens were there to just collect money but the role also included ensuring vehicles were parked correctly in residential areas to keep people safe.

"It'd be nice for that to be reflected in my remuneration."

He did not want to comment on how much he earned.

Members of the Public Service Association planned to picket outside the council offices on Willow St at 1pm for two hours, the union said.
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According to the union, the council determines staff salaries using a system that pays them less than the national median rate for their profession.

Striking workers claim morale is low and some who have worked at the council for years are struggling on low incomes while new hires get paid more.

Union organiser Angela Collier said the situation was "ludicrous", but "the problem is all too real".

"Tauranga City Council first figure out what a council employee would typically be paid elsewhere in New Zealand, and then they deliberately pay them up to 10 per cent less for years on end."

Union organiser Angela Collier speaking at the strike. Photo / Jean Bell
Union organiser Angela Collier speaking at the strike. Photo / Jean Bell

She said other councils used a similar system but guaranteed staff would progress to the full median rate after two years of training and experience.

She said some council workers claimed they had been underpaid for a decade, even while being recognised for high performance.

Collier said two years was a fair amount of time for staff to learn to do the job, at which point they should be paid the "full and appropriate rate".

"Unfortunately, Tauranga City Council, at this point, seem more interested in stubbornly clinging to a failed system."

She said 11 of the council's 68 vacancies had been empty for a year, leaving staff with increased workloads. Some new hires had been paid the full median rate from day one, while other gaps were filled by contractors.

Tauranga City Council staff picketing outside the council chambers. Photo / Jean Bell
Tauranga City Council staff picketing outside the council chambers. Photo / Jean Bell

"Everyone deserves decent pay, including recent hires, but it is obviously unfair for a more experienced worker to be paid less than someone new," she said.

Council "worker bee" and union delegate Julie Saies said it took her six years to reach 100 per cent of the salary band.

"In my department, any staff member with two years' service has a comprehensive knowledge of the role and the organisation, therefore they should be on 100 per cent.

"This is not an issue that affects me directly but I see how the inconsistency affects the team that I work with.

"Our morale is often low and staff feel undervalued for the work they do."

Contact centre worker Sally Nielson said she had been at the council for three-and-a-half years and was still not on 100 per cent of the band, in spite of praise for her work.

Tauranga City Council chief executive Marty Grenfell said the council received one hour's notice of the strike. He said he and the council's general manager of people and engagement spoke to the union and staff during the protest.

Grenfell said the council was committed to acting in good faith and understood and acknowledged what the union was trying to achieve.

"In fact, many of our goals are aligned," he said.

Grenfell said the council had offered a "generous" 3.3 per cent pay rise as an interim step.

"We are willing to commence discussions immediately to achieve a fair and equitable outcome for all our staff."

Last year the council agreed to adopt the living wage as a minimum for all direct employees.

The council spent $64m on salaries and wages last financial year, including its council-controlled operations, according to its annual report.

- Additional reporting - Jean Bell


Council staffing

As of June 30, Tauranga City Council had:

- 757 staff members
- 561 full-time
- 90 part-time
- 12 casual and relief
- 663 total full-time equivalent (40hr week)
- 9 paid more than $180,000 a year
- 331 paid less than $60,000

Source: Tauranga City Council 2018-19 Annual Report.