Where’s the Justice? MoJ Workers Fight For a Fair Deal

Staff at the Ministry of Justice have been amongst the tens of thousands of workers who have gone on strike this year. Read a report on the struggle so far, and what is coming next, as PSA members demand justice.

MOJ members on strike in front of Christchurch District Court. Photo credit: PSA
Often when we talk about workers’ struggle, people think about physical labour — miners, factory workers, dock workers, hospitality or customer service, or jobs which are known to be difficult, such as teaching and nursing. Workers in the public service — especially in a place like the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) — are entirely different. I believe there are a couple of key reasons for that:
  • The MoJ is seen as a necessary evil
Even if you have absolutely no criticism of the current justice system, having contact with the courts is rarely, if ever, something people want to do. That being said, everybody understands that having workers dedicated to administering justice is required for a fair society.
  • People don't understand the job.
If you ask the average person what a Court Registry Officer, Court Transcriptionist, or Victim Advisor does, they most likely won't have an answer for you. All people really see is the queue at the counter, or the wait time trying to call a case manager. They don't see the person comforting a victim throughout the legal process; the case manager slogging through seemingly endless files to get them ready for court; the workers clocking up days worth of overtime a month because they work through lunch and stay late to get everything done.
So, in sharing the struggle that members of the Public Service Association (PSA), the union which covers workers in MoJ, are going through with their employers, I hope at the very least to share an understanding with you. An understanding that under capitalism, the struggle of one worker is the struggle of all workers, and that the oppression and undervaluing of labour is prevalent wherever you may go.

To clarify, this writing is not representative of, nor endorsed by either the Ministry or the PSA.

The Dispute

Collective bargaining between the two parties started many months ago, with several claims from the union. Key amongst those were:
  • An across the board pay increase;
  • Transition from the current performance pay model to a step based pay scale;
  • Safe workloads; and
  • A commitment to addressing the gender pay gap.
What follows is a timeline of events up until now.

24 July
A pay proposal was put to the PSA, only to be swiftly rejected by members. The bargaining team took the workers’ demands back to the Ministry, until an impasse was reached, with MoJ saying the pay claims were "unaffordable."

3 September
Staff were informed of the PSA's decision to hold a ballot for a one hour nationwide strike on 19 September, and work to rule actions from that day through to 19 October. Members were overwhelmingly in favour.

19 September
The strike went ahead. This was the first taste that many MoJ workers had ever had of industrial action, and successful action at that.

26 September
The PSA led out Court Security Officers across South Auckland on their first lightning strike — a tactic where members are balloted on short notice, and employers are given 30 minutes notice of industrial action. A second lightning strike followed two days later in Christchurch, and again in Northland a few days after that.

3 October
The Ministry came back with another offer. Bargaining resumed until 18 October where again, the Ministry said they simply could not afford to meet the bargaining claims.

29 October
The bargaining team went into mediation following a request from MOJ. The Ministry still had nothing further to offer.

The last few weeks since bargaining failed once again have seen a successful ballot for further work-to-rule actions, and a huge increase in lightning strikes, including:
  • All court reporters nationwide;
  • All security officers in the South Island;
  • Contact centre workers; and
  • Many of the courts throughout the country.
The workers are sending a clear message: we're here to fight. The strikers are done with having their future salaries determined by moderators who don't know them; they're done with consistently being amongst the lowest paid Ministries; and they're done with a gender pay gap of about 15%. You would think that this is good news.

"The workers are sending a clear message: we're here to fight."

However, throughout this entire dispute, workers have faced an employer that is just as unwilling to back down.
  • During court security strikes, the Ministry has brought in Police as strike-breaking scabs. They claim that they have legal grounds due to "health and safety risks”. In reality, a scab is a scab.
  • The Ministry has filed an injunction against the lightning strikes. They claim that the actions taken are "unlawful," "irresponsible," and "unsafe." Yes, you read that correctly: the courts are using the power of the court against their workers’ right to industrial action.
  • Throughout the entire process, managers at the Ministry have taken time to thank the non-members covering for their PSA colleagues. This, alongside emails to all staff which attempt to undermine the union’s position and paint their offers as reasonable rather than rubbish, is starting to take a toll on morale among the members, who are not being heard and not being respected.
These are attacks on the union movement, which betray any idea of good faith, and signal a willingness to go to extreme lengths to win the right to undervalue their workers. In a year which has seen MBIE, IRD, and MoJ workers in struggle, it is increasingly clear that even what were once considered "cushy government jobs," are no longer. Neoliberalism takes no prisoners in the war against the working class.

However, today saw a victory in favour of the union movement. Today saw the Employment court rule that the injunction sought by Ministry would be denied. Today saw some justice won — but the battle at MoJ is far from over.

If you'd like to tautoko Ministry of Justice workers, they are balloting for a nationwide strike on Wednesday 7th November from 12:30-5:00pm. Actions will likely be at or near your local district court, so please attend if you are able. Socialist Aotearoa sends all of our solidarity to PSA members. The workers united will never be defeated!

By Jane Doe, SA


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