Nurses and teachers are in a class of their own when it comes to salary negotiations.

Both professions are being abandoned at an alarming rate, and also seem to struggle in terms of recruitment, although it is debatable that pay rises will fix those problems.

Both have long been suffering from the effects of unattractive conditions in general. Both say they find it difficult to function under increasingly onerous workloads, and while yet another round of political tinkering with the education system might address that on behalf of teachers, don't hold your breath.

We've been there before, and who can remember the last time teachers celebrated a reduction in the often ludicrous bureaucratic demands that prevent them from actually teaching?


The current government seems to accept that both professions are in need of first aid, if not major surgery, but both will seemingly require huge injections of cash, and that will be a problem, for this government and those to come.

Teaching no doubt could do with a major dose of common sense, perhaps more than money, but health generally will always be a bottomless pit in terms of funding, and, unfair as it might be, there will often be higher priorities than nursing.

Nurses, meanwhile, have rejected what to many would seem a generous offer of nine per cent over 15 months, plus a one-off $2000 lump sum. That, they say, would not give them parity with their counterparts in Australia. Not sure what the relevance of that is — Australia is a different country with a different economy and a very different public health service (which no doubt helps significantly in terms of paying nurses more than we do).

The standing offer, which both the government and the DHBs say will not be increased, would go some way towards addressing that particular gripe, however. And the profession's clear expectation that the salary issue will be resolved in one fell swoop, even by a sympathetic government, is unrealistic. If this government can make nurses happy by the end of its three-year term it will have done well.

Teachers are in a similar position. They point to an exodus that is having a major impact on many schools' ability to attract the teachers they need, and to retain those they already have. The root causes of that might go further beyond pay scales than they do with nursing, but again the government will be doing well if it can resolve those issues in one parliamentary term.

Meanwhile, some believe that what we are seeing is unions demanding payback for their loyal support of Labour's 2017 election campaign. Not so say the unions, and Labour, not entirely convincingly, given that not much has changed since Labour was last in government, except for the NZNO's rediscovered enthusiasm for striking.

But if nurses and teachers can be seen as needy, and agitating for a much greater cause than personal financial gain, others are out and out greedy. And wouldn't you know it, the public sector is leading the way.

Unrest is building within the bureaucracy, it seems, with sights set on pay rises of nine to 15 per cent. A lofty goal given the fact that we have all enjoyed a long period of very little inflation, and any increase could hardly be linked with increased productivity.

They will almost certainly settle for less, if it comes to that. Apart from anything else, civil servants have never enjoyed the public support given to teachers and nurses, and it is difficult to imagine that any sort of pay rise would make life better for anyone other than the recipient.

But rather than considering what might be a reasonable increase in civil service salaries, the Taxpayers' Union reckons there are no grounds for any increase at all. In fact it says the public sector has got so far ahead of the rest of us that a wage freeze would be fairer.

Jordan Williams says public sector incomes have grown much faster than the private sector over the past 25 years. Those who work for the taxpayer, he says, are paid a third more than their private sector counterparts.

The pay gap between the public and private sectors had almost doubled since the 1990s. And that's not all. They get more sick leave too (8.6 days and 8.4 days on average in 2016 and 2017, compared with 4.7 days in the private sector).

Claims by "left wing activists" and unions that the public sector had undergone nine years of "neoliberal hell" was a lie, according to Mr Williams, and stats (from the Taxpayers' Union) seem to back him up. Since 1990, the gap between the public and private sectors increased from 18.9 per cent to 34.6 per cent (in 2017), having peaked at 38.4 per cent in 2010. The gap was even bigger in terms of hourly rates, because, on average, those in the public sector worked fewer hours than their private sector counterparts.

Mr Williams reckons that if the government had retained a public sector earnings premium of 20 per cent, taxpayers would be saving $2.5 billion a year, or $1445 per household, in lower taxes or reduced government debt. Even reducing public sector sick leave provisions to those of the private sector would save $173 million a year, or approximately $100 per household.

One suspects that the civil service claim for salary increases won't fly especially well, but the fact that the claim is being made at all adds credence to the view that the current government is seen as a soft touch, with a debt to pay. That may not last, whatever the political inclination, simply because money doesn't grow on trees, and there are much more deserving sectors, starting with teachers and nurses.

And while the government is fixing education, it might like to address the fact that male teachers are all but an extinct species. The benefits, especially for boys, of being taught by men are well recognised, but those who vociferously agitate for gender equity in every other profession don't seem at all concerned that there are so few of them.

Very best wishes

The Northland Age can hardly compete with world leaders and international media, but would like to offer its very best wishes to the Prime Minister and her partner following the arrival of their daughter.

It trusts that they, and the parents of the other 23 children born at Auckland Hospital on June 21, will enjoy (almost) every moment of the blessing that has been bestowed upon them.

Every parent will know the emotions they are experiencing, and the joys and challenges that lie ahead. Hopefully the family will now be allowed to settle into their routine at home without constant media scrutiny.

Perhaps last week's euphoria was understandable, but we didn't really need to know what the new mum had for lunch on Friday, and would be having for tea. Hopefully now the media hysteria will ease a little.

And please, can we put an end to the labelling of Neve Te Aroha Ardern-Gayford as our First Baby, and the infant and her parents as our First Family? We are becoming Americanised (and obsessed with celebrity) enough without this.