O’Reilly predicts public service strife

The SST reports:

BUSINESS BOSS Phil O’Reilly is predicting 2010 will be a year of industrial strife and an “ugly” budget that will bump up the GST rate.

O’Reilly, the chief executive of Business NZ, said he expected “fireworks” from public sector unions as the government tightened the screws on spending, and Finance Minister Bill English has said total government spending cannot increase more than $1.1 billion in the May budget, a difficult task considering that public hospitals alone have been soaking up an extra $700 million a year in recent budgets. English has warned public servants such as teachers and nurses not to expect pay increases that are “out of line with realistic expectations”.

More than 50,000 primary and secondary teachers will negotiate a new pay deal with the government when their current agreement expires at the end of June.

“I think we will see quite a few sparks fly,” O’Reilly said. “Government departments are being told how much they can spend so you’re going to see an ugly budget from the perspective of government spending and that will impact people like the state sector unions, the teacher unions and so on. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of that was turned into industrial action.”

NZ Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said O’Reilly was being “hysterical” but warned that public sector workers would not tolerate zero pay increases or cuts in services.

“We are ready for that kind of a year but we hope commonsense will prevail.

I am all for common sense. Common sense is that the economy has grown only 0.4% in the last six months, so pay increases greater than the rate of economic growth are not common sense. Likewise borrowing more money to fund pay increases is not common sense when you are borrowing $240 million every week just to pay for current salaries.

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