More than 500 Defence Force workers have been celebrating an Employment Relations Authority determination that awards them backpay. However, a last-minute appeal by the Defence Force to the Employment Court means they now face more uncertainty.
“We were pleased that the Employment Relations Authority agreed with our view that the Defence Force tried to undermine the union’s collective agreement and gave an unlawful preference to non-union workers,” said Mark James, Organiser for the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi.
“The Authority had ordered payments to union members in recognition of the Defence Force’s unlawful actions but now members are going to have to wait longer and face more uncertainty.
“This is ridiculous – in a cost-of-living crisis, these payments would make a difference to many members. The Authority clearly found that the Defence Force’s actions were wrong, and this would have been a simple way to remedy the wrong.”
The dispute relates to the collective agreement for the years 2020 and 2021 for civilian staff. It arose after the PSA claimed the Defence Force had backdated pay increases for non-union members of the civilian staff in both 2020 and 2021, while telling the union that it was prevented from making back-payments, and that it increased pay rates for non-union-members of the civilian staff in 2021 to match (or pass on) PSA negotiated rates.
A core issue was that the Defence Force had misrepresented to the PSA that Te Kawa Mataaho (the Public Service Commission) had told the Defence Force that it was not allowed to make back-payments to the union. Documents obtained under an Official Information request showed this had not happened and the Authority agreed with the PSA that Te Kawa Mataaho had not made such a claim.
“The Defence Force’s actions had the potential to undermine the relationship between the union and Te Kawa Mataaho. We were surprised that the Defence Force would blatantly misrepresent the views of such a high-level public service organisation.”
The Defence Force appeal means the payments are on hold until the matter is heard for a second time.
“Union members are justifiably frustrated and upset that the Defence Force has fought so hard to deny payments to union members. We find it surprising that at a time when the Defence Force is struggling to recruit people and retain valued workers, it wants to deny what are fair entitlements.
“The PSA is determined to seek justice for members who were wronged by the Defence Force’s actions as acknowledged by the Employment Relations Authority,” said Mark James.