Police officers reject pay offer

Police officers have rejected their first pay offer, saying the proposal does not reflect the increasing risks and pressures of the job.

This is the latest round of major collective pay negotiations, with nurses and teachers striking in the past two months in an effort to improve pay and working conditions.

Sworn police officers are not legally able to strike, although unsworn police staff do have the option of industrial action.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the offer from New Zealand Police of a 2 percent annual pay rise each year for three years was immediately rejected by the union’s negotiating team, during a meeting last week.

The offer was well below what members expected and required, Cahill said, adding that a subsequent email to members was met with an unprecedented response in support of the rejection.

Police officers wanted a package that reflected and acknowledged the changing nature of the job, he said.

The union’s 8500 sworn officer members are calling for paid overtime, and better recognition of shift work, of the dangers of the job, and of rising living costs.

“The job is getting harder and there needs to be some realistic recognition of that, and we don’t believe we’re being unrealistic,” Cahill said.

As well as longer hours and rising living costs – especially for police living in Auckland, the job was “becoming riskier all the time”.

The spread of methamphetamine, serious and violent offenders, and firearm-related crimes put police in increasingly dangerous situations.

Cahill said some officers were being shot at after being out of police college for just weeks.

The union boss applauded the Government’s commitment to deliver an extra 1800 police officers, but said it would be hard to attract and retain officers with the current staring pay and conditions.

“It’s like the Government has come halfway to the party.”

The starting rate for a sworn police officer is $60,000.

A good way to increase the size of the force is to have happy and engaged officers, Cahill said.

“The last thing we want at this stage is for our members to be disillusioned.”

The Government has promised to strive towards 1800 extra police in three years. However, Police Minister Stuart Nash said it may take longer, depending on recruitment numbers, and attrition.

Attrition rates have been high, especially among Auckland officers and senior staff, with as many as 500 police leaving each year.

Cahill said his understanding was the extra police would now likely be delivered over five years, rather than three.

“And if we’re going to have to wait longer for this increase in resources, then there’s an expectation that we won’t have to wait for pay.”

National Party police spokesman Chris Bishop said the Government, and Nash, were in a difficult position.

It wasn't just about salary for police - working conditions were a big part of achieving quality of work life.

The Government had raised expectations for those in the public sector, now they were dealing with the consequences, he said, referring to police, teachers, and nurses.

Preliminary discussions between the union and police started in July, with the first formal pay offer made last week.

The union’s negotiating team is due to meet with NZ Police again next week, and is hoping the Government has approved a new package that addresses officers’ concerns.

Police had suggested establishing a working group to address the issues, but Cahill said none of the issues were new, and that approach would “just kick the can down the road”.

Officers wanted progress now. Some officers had stuck around in the hope of a successful round of negotiations, and in recent years – during the global financial crisis – police had take zero percent and 1 percent pay rounds, he said.

“We don’t have to get into a big public stoush but it’s important the police and public understand our members’ expectations.”

Cahill said members had sent NZ Police “a pretty strong message”.

NZ Police said negotiations were ongoing.

“We participate in this process in good faith and are unable to discuss matters further.”

A spokeswoman for Nash referred questions to police, as they were handling negotiations.

About 99 percent of sworn police officers belong to the union, and about 75 percent of non-sworn police staff.

(This article has been updated. An earlier version of the story said Police Minister Stuart Nash said it could take up to five years to deliver on the promise of 1800 extra police.) 

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