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Mallard Speech to the PSA Inaugural Congress

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister of State Services

Speech to the PSA Inaugural Congress

Airport Hotel, Wellington

Monday 1 May 2000


Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

When thinking about this forum a couple of weeks ago, I thought of my Uncle Bill. He lived not very far from here and was one of thousands of New Zealanders who proudly displayed framed 1951 certificates on their wall.

Later a young lad shovelled sand from the back of Uncle Bill's HW Thomas truck. It was Ken Douglas in his first job when he left school.

Although the PSA has existed for nearly 90 years, in the 1950s, many workers like Bill did not think of public servants as real unionists. Even in the 1970s in Taumarunui the local union and association group raised almost as many eyebrows amongst the blue-collar workers as it did amongst the workers as it did amongst the cockies.

Perhaps more relevant to today's forum, governments did not work in partnership with any union.

But times have changed. More recently, the Government has changed.

We're often criticised for having 'union friends'. Unlike the previous Government we don't see unions as enemies.

I don't think the previous administration ever thought of who made up these 'nasty' unions they were constantly berating.

My predecessors in the education portfolio indulged in damaging and unproductive campaigns against the teacher unions without actually acknowledging that well over 90% of teachers choose to be members of the two main unions. By doing so, I think they missed out on fully utilising the indepth knowledge and experience which can enhance quality of learning for children in New Zealand schools. Alongside parent representatives and principals' organisations, I value the contribution that the teacher unions make. We do not always agree, but we listen to each other's opinions and ideas. I have not taught in a classroom for nearly 20 years. I value the input of those who have.

Today, however, I am here as Minister of State Services to talk about how the Government can work more closely with the PSA.

Following this speech, I will sign an agreement with your outgoing president Kathy Higgins. I gather it will be her last official duty as PSA president and I look forward to working further on this with your new president. The agreement will outline a partnership for quality between myself, as Minister of State Services, and the PSA as the representative of a significant number of employees within the public service.

This agreement looks at how we can work together to secure public services through a partnership for quality.

Partnership for quality will encourage employers, managers, and the PSA to establish co-operative and open relationships.

It will seek to enhance the effectiveness of departments and agencies and their ability to provide quality services and outcomes.

It will create the basis and procedures for decisions on the department or agency's future and capacity.

It will enhance the working environment so that public service employment is more satisfying and more beneficial to the employee.

Employees should be able to collectively participate more in the management of their workplaces.

So what's in this for the Government?

We have set ourselves some huge challenges. We have plans and ideas to grow the economy; to restore trust in government and provide strong social services; to improve the level of education and skills among New Zealanders; to protect and enhance the environment. Through all this we want to close the social and economic gaps that have developed between Maori and Pacific people and other New Zealanders. And we want to strengthen national identity and follow the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

To achieve these goals, we need support from a strong, vibrant, and innovative public sector. We need people who are dedicated and committed to their work.

In short, we need you to do your jobs well.

If public servants find their jobs satisfying and fulfilling; if management is constantly aware of ways to improve the working environment; if there is ongoing upskilling and professional development - then I believe we can go a long way to improving the capacity and reputation of the public service.

As a Government, we can't achieve our goals alone.

There are many talented and hardworking individuals in the public service. But there is also a system that has been through an identity crisis over the last decade.

The desire to improve efficiency has created a certain imbalance - with short-term purchase decisions taking too great a priority over ownership decisions like the capacity to develop and deliver services over a period greater than a year. There have been good people lost.

Government agencies are not part of the private sector. 'Risk' in the public service is not limited to financial, but extends to the risk of failing to meet the expectations of large sections of society.

And unless there is a change in direction; a change in attitude; and a change in style - we will not meet public expectations.

I believe there is the will to make the necessary changes. There is certainly the will on the Government's side. I am confident that there is goodwill amongst many public servants. Part of your role will be to make sure you take your members with you. Clearly that has not always been the case.

You should also understand that the Government is open to developing similar understandings with other unions.

There is no pride in working in an institution you have no faith in. We like to feel that the organisation we work for does a good job, and that as individuals, we contribute to making it work well.

The agreement we are signing today signals a start to the process of change.

It shows that we have faith in your ability to help improve capacity in the public service. It is a commitment to valuing your ideas and your input. It is recognition that we can't maximise improvement unless we work together.

What this will mean in practical terms will be developed over the next few months between the PSA, the State Services Commission, and relevant Chief Executives.

A work programme will be developed that includes training of all involved in the process, provision of support and technical assistance, dissemination of best practice, and enterprise level negotiation and activity.

I hope to be able to discuss progress on this with you at your next congress.

I'd like to make a few comments now on the Employment Relations Bill. Submissions on the bill close on Wednesday. It is no doubt a topic that is being discussed in more detail during these two days so I won't spend too much time on it.

But I believe the agreement we are signing today is in line with the bill's intent to bring fair dealings and a more balanced approach into the workplace.

Employment relationships must be built on good faith behaviour. Good faith will apply to all parties and it will require all players in the employment environment to act reasonably in their dealings with each other.

Finally I'd like to acknowledge the fact that it is May Day which is, among other things, an anniversary for the union movement. May 1 1886 is one of the most important days in the history of the international struggle for the eight-hour working day. Strikes and demonstrations were held across the United States. In Chicago alone some 40,000 workers struck, and within days more than a dozen people were killed and more than one hundred injured.

However, in some countries, May Day is also called Moving Day and is seen as a good time to move house or change jobs. Given our emphasis here today on improving capacity within the public service, I hope you don't take that too much to heart.

Thank you.

ENDS

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