Blue cuts bad, red cuts better
The CTU and PSA put politics over members
With all the brouhaha over the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) high profile attack campaign against National Party leader Christopher Luxon and the party’s proposed cuts to the public service, you could be forgiven for missing the CTU’s condemnation of Labour’s plan to cut $4 billion from the public sector.
After all, regardless of whether it’s National or Labour doing the cutting, many of the programmes cut by Finance Minister Grant Robertson and the baseline reductions will have a direct impact on the ability of frontline services to effectively deliver what they’re meant to even if, in Education and Health at least, frontline roles are meant to be excluded.
However, you haven’t missed anything. That’s because in the two weeks since Grant Robertson announced the sweeping cuts there has been radio silence from the country’s peak union body. Between cuts to climate funding, delays to rollout of disability support services, through to $1.4b in baseline funding cut from departments from 2024-27, the cuts hit right across the public sector.
The Public Service Association (PSA) – the organisation charged with advocating for our public servants - fared little better. While their press release in response to National’s proposed cuts thundered with outrage that National was going to “cut the public services Kiwis need”, the equivalent release in response to Grant Robertson’s cuts just two days earlier extolled to public servants that they “must help identify savings in [the] Government’s new cost cutting drive.”
Now, in fairness to both the CTU and PSA, National’s cuts in public spending will go further than what Labour has proposed. What’s at issue though is the CTU being missing in action over Labour’s cuts and the PSA meekly rolling over like a good puppy for Grant Robertson to rub their bellies. These are two organisations that should be shouting from the rooftops to protect our public service, not turning a blind eye or actively collaborating in those cuts.
I’ve worked in the public sector and have family and friends in roles across it now. The reality is hundreds, if not thousands, of roles are likely to be lost - even under Labour’s proposal. Beyond the headline programmes that have be cut, progress on crucial initiatives in core services such as health, education, and housing will be slowed, paused, or abandoned completely as a result.
While nobody expects either the CTU or PSA to acquiesce to National’s plans, you would think that on behalf of the workers they’re meant to be representing they should at least be treating Labour’s cuts with the same rigour to which opposition parties are subject.
The selective criticism, depending on the party proposing them, is reminiscent of the slogan "Four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Just as the slogan was eventually changed to "Four legs good, two legs better" to suit the evolving self-interest of those running the show, the CTU and PSA's stance on cuts also seems to shift according to partisan interest. Vocal opposition to National’s plan was to be expected. The muted response to Labour's proposed cuts much less so.
And this really does raise questions about whether the unions have allowed their allegiances to sway their duty of strong advocacy for the workers they represent.
Ultimately, if you’re going to run a high-profile campaign accusing Christopher Luxon of being out of touch, you’re probably best not to do so while you’re simultaneously behaving like the pigs from animal farm.
Gwynn Compton is a communications and government relations consultant. He is a former local government councillor and worked for Prime Ministers Sir John Key and Sir Bill English during the Fifth National Government.