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After strike, science workers refuse to fill paperwork

Scientists, lab technicians and support staff employed by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research walked off the job around New Zealand on Thursday November 21.

The strike was the first ever taken by staff at a Crown Research Institute since their creation 27 years ago.

Public Service Association members are now taking part in an ongoing partial strike, refusing to fill out timesheet paperwork until December 6th.

This will impact upon NIWA’s ability to generate income.

Roddy Henderson is a hydrologist who works for NIWA in Christchurch, and says he took industrial action to defend his collective agreement from management’s union busting agenda.

"I’ve only been on strike once before in my life, in 1979 when Muldoon tried to deregister the PSA," he says.

"I never expected that 40 years later I’d have to do it all over again, and for similar reasons. NIWA have dragged out negotiations for 16 months and now our collective agreement has expired, so new staff have to go on individual agreements. It’s not good enough."

NIWA's employees in Bream Bay are rostered to work overtime every third weekend, and while most receive compensation for this NIWA management have refused this to some part-time staff.

PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay says the union has found negotiations with NIWA a deeply frustrating experience.

"We don’t often encounter employers with such an outdated and hostile approach to bargaining. The issues at stake should not be hard to overcome," says Mr Barclay.

"We want them to provide fair overtime compensation for a small number of part time staff, pay transparency data showing what staff are paid compared to others in comparable roles elsewhere, and a bit more of a culture of respect in the workplace. Is that so much to ask?"

The union leader says if NIWA had been genuinely negotiating in good faith with the intention of settling an agreement, a deal would have been struck months ago.

Having already agreed to a 2% pay increase, the PSA feels NIWA are refusing to settle because they simply don’t want staff to join a union.

"We think this could have been settled without a strike, but our members are not prepared to just roll over and accept whatever an autocratic management team dictates them," says Mr Barclay.

"There has never been a strike before in any Crown Research Institute, which should indicate how deeply our members feel about this issue. We look forward to them changing their approach and bargaining in good faith, but if no progress is made our members will make plans for further industrial action."

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